How to Develop a Successful Transit Facility Project

Posted on May 22, 2013 by Fred Gilliam and Ken Anderson

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Planning for new, expanded or renovated transit facilities begins years in advance. Whether an organization has a formal 20- or 25-year plan, in addition to their five-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), administrators understand looking at future facility/program needs and the resources required to meet those needs is key to a successful project. Part one of a two-part series, this article discusses some factors that should be considered before an organization issues a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) or a Request for Proposal (RFP).

The need for new or expanded facilities often follows the enlargement of an organization’s service area; simple growth and evolution of ridership demand; the creation of a high density location intercept — such as a park-and-ride facility or an increase in express service to a particular location — or other factors.

As agency heads understand, the TIP is designed to make certain that federal funds, as well as other sources of funding, are used in the most efficient way possible for the benefit of the region. In putting together a TIP and identifying funding sources, it is important to look to several factors.

Identify funding sources
First, are there direct grants or funding sources — for example, funds designated to promote cleaner air, energy conservation or decongestion — for which an agency’s situation is particularly applicable? Second, will the funding of a new project create jobs? A job creation analysis can often be obtained from a local agency, such as the Chamber of Commerce, and may provide for additional sources of funding. Third, is there an experienced third party from whom a project evaluation can be obtained? Frequently, this type of review process helps organizations avoid pitfalls, particularly in the design stage, through the sharing of lessons learned. Because of the success of this type of review process, expenses are typically eligible for reimbursement through a project’s capital grant.

Conduct feasibility study
Armed with these preliminary details, agencies next focus on conducting a feasibility study. By incorporating more stakeholders in this feasibility process, the agency and project designers develop a detailed and comprehensive program in the early planning stages. An agency can then establish an accurate facility size estimate, evaluate expansion needs and understand the type of project parcel that will best accommodate those needs. This analysis should include location deadhead, visibility, and other intangibles that could alter the project location or budget.

As seen in the Austin Lakeline Park & Ride Project, designed and engineered by MWM Design, when highway expansion demanded the relocation of the system’s current high-volume park-and-ride, staff service and consultants, on behalf of Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro), evaluated current and future capacity needs to identify several candidate sites. The characteristics of each candidate site were organized into a matrix and analyzed by all stakeholders. Every criterion for each candidate site was assigned a score and an optimal site was identified based upon these scores.       

Los Angeles Metro’s El Monte Transit Center in El Monte, Calif.
Los Angeles Metro’s El Monte Transit Center in El Monte, Calif.
Determine site viability
Once a detailed feasibility study is conducted, the planning focus turns to a specific property site’s viability. The physical site has a huge impact on the project budget — from availability and efficiency of location, to cost of construction and lifetime operating costs. A specific project location may require condemnation proceedings, environmental remediation or rezoning action. For example, if federal funding is being pursued, an agency should complete an environmental assessment, in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act. This was done for the East Valley Bus Operations and Maintenance Facility in Tempe, Ariz., a project designed by RNL and completed in 2007.

“Because of the commitment of local partner agencies to sustainable practices, the East Valley project garnered substantial federal and local funds,” Robert Yabes, principal planner for the City of Tempe, says.

Through a project cost analysis, including the project site factors discussed above, a project team can create a detailed submission for the Policy Support Board, federal funding or other capital funding sources. The more information that an organization is able to gather, the wider the available funding opportunities.

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