Federal Transit Budget Gives Hope to BRT Planners in Pittsburgh

The federal budget signed into law Friday provides funding for transit projects, which is good news for Pittsburgh’s Bus Rapid Transit project, officials say.

The budget includes $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, which includes $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants, up from $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2017, according to a news release from the American Public Transportation Association.

The bill contains strong language to ensure the future of the program, the release says.
“This is what we’ve been saying all along, is that we anticipated at some point there would be federal funding for projects like BRT,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “Something that can benefit the entire community usually has a good chance of succeeding.”
President Trump’s proposed infrastructure budget, released in June, proposed nixing federal funding for all new transit projects funded by the FTA’s Small Starts program, such as the Pittsburgh BRT project, which is intended to add a more efficient public transit link between Downtown and Oakland.

In September, officials submitted the application for the project, seeking nearly $100 million from the Small Starts program.

It’s one of 37 project applications in the country in the Small Starts Project Development Phase, according to an FTA web page.

The Pittsburgh project is up against BRT, rail and streetcar projects in Milwaukee, Seattle, Orlando, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Albany and elsewhere.

Small Starts projects can receive up to $100 million in federal funding.
The Pittsburgh application asks for $97.8 million in federal funds for the project — half of its total cost, according to an FTA report released last month . Only four of the 37 other applications ask for a higher amount in federal funding.

In its report, the FTA gave the project a “high” rating overall, as well as for local financial commitment, environmental benefits. It received a “medium-high” ranking for project justification and land use. It received a “medium” ranking for mobility improvements, congestion relief, cost effectiveness and economic development.

Plans to build the system are moving forward at the local and state level, as well.
Pittsburgh officials plan to apply for a $15 million PennDOT grant to begin street and signal improvements for the BRT project.

The improvements would include improvements to the curbs, sidewalks and intersections in Downtown and western Uptown that would be used by BRT after it is built, said Keyva Clark, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill Peduto.

If the city receives the grant, the city would pay $4.5 million for the project out of its capital budget, according to a city document.

The item is on the agenda to be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council at its meeting Tuesday.
Officials plan to start construction on the project in mid-2019 and to have it up and running by 2021.