A little while ago, the Federal Transit Authority announced that it's advancing around $182 million in New Starts grants to a handful of transit projects already under construction -- and among the short stack of recipients is Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line (referred to in the feds' release as "Northwest/Southeast Light Rail"). And, thing is, today's announcement comes as quite the surprise to DART officials.
"We did not know it was coming," says the transit agency's spokesman Morgan Lyons when I called to ask about the $17,788,000 advance payment. But Lyons reminds: The $1.8-billion Green Line, which officially expanded December 6, was paid for in part with a $700-million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the FTA, which is doled out over several years. Just last year, for instance, the feds kicked in $78.4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was an advance on the FY2014 payment.
In a statement released this afternoon, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood explains why the FTA is cutting these checks today: "By making these payments now, we're not only fulfilling the federal government's commitment to these projects sooner, but we're also giving a well-timed boost to communities that have made an important investment in their transportation infrastructure. We want to keep the projects moving and people working with these early investments, which will save these cities money over the long haul."
Lyons says DART's checking to see to which fiscal year today's payment will count; an FTA spokesman tells Unfair Park he think it's for FY2011, but he'll get back to us later with further details. Regardless, the cash-strapped DART could use the money sooner than later: "They have some additional stimulus money," Lyons says, "so it frees up some money" on DART's end to get the advance now.
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And for those wondering why the feds gave DART the money for the Green Line as opposed to, say, the city's streetcar line, keep in mind: "The key to stimulus projects has always been they're shovel-ready," says Lyons. "The Orange Line and Green Line were already under construction, as opposed to something years down the road. Streetcars are still a ways off."