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FTA, FHWA: No change in CMAQ eligibility for high-speed rail projects


U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Jan. 16 published their final decision not to alter Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) eligibility for high-speed rail projects.

As written, CMAQ guidelines provide states funds for projects in close proximity to nonattainment and maintenance areas where it is determined that the air quality benefits will be realized primarily within such areas. States that have no designated nonattainment or maintenance areas receive one-half of 1 percent of the national CMAQ funding that may be spent anywhere in the state for any project that would be eligible for funding.

Several states, however, explored the possibility of using CMAQ funds toward high-speed rail projects outside of nonattainment or maintenance areas on the basis that the benefits within designated areas would be realized only if the entire corridor were funded.

DOT received 39 comments; 21 commenters opposed expanding eligibility and believed the existing policy should remain intact. Eighteen others supported eligibility expansion either conditionally or fully. The five with limited support or support under certain conditions all were from state DOTs.

"The comments were generally thoughtful and many raised excellent points," said FHWA Administrator Mary Peters and FTA Administrator Jennifer Dorn, according to the Federal Register posting. "However, no comments were received that persuaded us that the current policy on eligibility was unsound."

CMAQ funds already are being used to fund several projects, including one on New York’s Empire Corridor. The route passes through five counties between New York City and Schenectady; however, only four are designated as maintenance areas for the one-hour ozone standard. Twenty-five of the routes 160 miles are in an area that is not designated as nonattainment or maintenance. But, because the line is in close proximity to a designated county and the project as a whole isn’t viable without the link, the entire project is eligible to use CMAQ funds.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/16/2002