June 2010

Top Rail Projects Exceed $80 Billion

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

METRO's annual Top Rail Projects has a new No. 1 for the second straight year, with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) jumping all the way up from the No. 15 position in 2009 to take the top slot with $14 billion in projects. Last year's top dog, New Jersey Transit, drops to the No. 2 position, with $11.8 billion in projects.

Three familiar agencies to METRO's annual list — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's New York City Transit ($8.3 billion), Seattle's Sound Transit ($7.8 billion) and Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD), with $6.5 billion in projects — round out the top five.

Overall, this year's approximately $88 billion project purse represents a $15 billion jump compared to 2009's $73 billion total.

Portland's TriMet makes a significant jump from the No. 22 slot in 2009 to the No. 6 slot in 2010, with $5 billion in projects, including its 7.3-mile Milwaukie light rail line, which runs south from Portland and includes a transit bridge over the Willamette River.

Meanwhile, TTC's surge to the top spot is bolstered by several projects in the works, including the approximately 19-mile Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, which will connect the Kennedy Subway Station along Eglinton Avenue west to Pearson Airport/Mississauga Transitway, and approximately 8.6 miles of new track for the Sheppard East LRT project.

Rounding out the top 10 are the Utah Transit Authority (No. 9) — which has $2.85 billion in projects that will add approximately 69.5 miles of track, with some construction being performed by Alameda, Calif.'s Stacy and Witbeck Inc. — and Houston Metro (No. 10).

New additions

Systems rejoining 2010's rankings include Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (No. 8), San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System (No. 13), D.C.'s Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (No. 35) and Chicago's Metra (No. 36). Combined, these four major metropolitan agencies add more than $5.3 billion to the total project purse.

Metro-St. Louis (No. 40) returns to 2010's list after dropping off in 2009 because of major financial issues that were rectified in April when St. Louis County voters passed Proposition A, which set a sales tax of one-half of 1 percent to fund public transit for the region.

Ongoing funding issues

Monies from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed into law in 2008, are still having a significant impact on many projects throughout the nation, with more than two-thirds of respondents saying they are using ARRA funds to partially or fully pay for projects.

The success of ARRA, however, is being offset by budget shortfalls being felt around the nation. Many respondents to METRO's survey say they are working to contain costs wherever possible and deliberately moving forward only with certain projects, while in many cases also dealing with service cuts and having to downsize workforces.

The passage of a new federal transportation authorization bill is also critical to many transit agencies and their projects, with respondents from large to small saying they would be forced to either slow down or completely stop projects without continued federal support.

In Los Angeles, spokespeople for the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA/Metrolink) report that without continued federal financial support it may be difficult to comply with the federal government's mandate of installing positive train control on its system by 2015.

Meanwhile in Denver, RTD officials say, "depending on funding levels for continuing authorizations, it could negatively impact near-term capital programs and, indirectly, operations." For its FasTracks program, for example, RTD is recommended in the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts report for a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for the Eagle P3 project in the amount of $1.03 billion and is working to get the FFGA signed in the first half of 2011. If authorization is not passed, however, Phase 2 of the project could be endangered, "resulting in the potential for schedule delays and/or detrimental cost impacts."


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