FTA Is Primed to Help Agencies Secure Funding; ‘Get Stuff Done’


From left: Matthew Welbes, Stephanie Wiggins, Goran Sparrman, Catherine Rinaldi, Phillip Eng.

Matthew Welbes, FTA executive director, speaking at the FTA Update General Session at the APTA Rail Conference, spoke broadly about FTA programs, transit-oriented development (TOD) and the state of transit, and specifically about progress.

“Secretary Buttigieg, in his meetings with DOT, is talking about this as the year we should be getting stuff done,” Welbes said. “We’re in year three,” of the five-year Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the resulting historic funding.

What can agencies do right now? “Make the ask,” Welbes said, and pursue various funding options by working with FTA, and USDOT’s Build America Bureau.

Morteza Farajian, executive director of the Build America Bureau, joined Welbes on stage to discuss the Bureau’s funding priorities. He explained that TOD had 45 percent of his $40 billion funding pipeline. Support is available through technical assistance, a variety of grants, private bonds, and flexible TIFIA and RRIF loans.

From left: Matthew Welbes, Morteza Farajian.

“We’re not competitive…. We actually want to help you,” said Farajian. “If you have a good project, come to us, talk to us, let us help you to put the best package together.”

Welbes also invited a panel of transit executives to share thoughts on ridership, modernization, and land use. Stephanie Wiggins, CEO, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro); and Goran Sparrman, interim CEO, Sound Transit, Seattle, WA, discussed public engagement to support ridership.

LA Metro requires potential developers “to go through a community development process, a visioning process, so that we don’t bring forward a … concept that really hasn’t been vetted through the community.” Wiggins said.

Sparrman, citing recent violent incidents on Sound Transit trains, said that although the system is statistically very safe, “the reality is that public perception matters. So, for us it’s a huge priority to make sure we deal with and really respond to this concern about public safety” with a five-fold increase in security personnel and thorough cleanings of trains and stations, because “cleanliness goes hand in hand with security.”

Phillip Eng, GM/CEO, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Catherine Rinaldi, President, MTA Metro-North Railroad, saw increasing ridership as an equity issue. Rinaldi described MTA’s Penn Station expansion in terms of the connectivity and opportunities it would bring to underserved riders; and fare discounts would help, too. Eng was excited about USDOT’s All Stations Accessibility Program, helping MBTA to improve accessibility at 14 trolley stations.

“That’s going to grow ridership and also help people rebuild trust in transit,” Eng said. “Where they’re seeing progress and they’re seeing that we’re putting precious dollars to good use and delivering on improving people’s lives.”

APTA Chair Michele Wong Krause introduced Welbes to start the session.

View more images from the conference here.