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The Lessons Of The Federal New Starts Program

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The Bipartisan Policy Center has released the Parsons Brinckerhoff research that the center based its June 2009 report “Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy.” The research, "New Starts: Lessons Learned for Discretionary Federal Transportation Funding Programs," discussed the historical New Starts program and suggests how a new, broader transportation funding program might be fashioned from the lessons of New Starts.

The authors, Donald J. Emerson and Jeffrey D. Ensor, point out that New Starts projects have historically been subject to more scrutiny and accountability than other federally funded surface transportation projects.

Congress has the final word on funding amounts and exercises regular oversight of FTA recommendations. As a result, the authors note, the New Starts program shares decision-making between executive and legislative branches more than any other program.

(Reconnecting America's analysis of FY11 New Starts/Small Starts funding is online here.)

"The New Starts program is essentially the only discretionary transportation program of any size that offers a history of program design and implementation extending over many years," the authors explain. "It offers numerous lessons that may be useful to consider in the design and implementation of a new discretionary program."

The authors suggest that a tiered evaluation framework may be helpful for a new competitive program, with projects requesting larger amounts of federal investment being subject to more requirements and more rigorous reviews.

Among their suggestions, the authors say a competitive discretionary program will need to give careful thought to establishing a baseline against which a project’s benefits and costs are measured. This in turn will require new tools to measure multimodal projects.

This research has been added to the Best Practices.

New Starts: Lessons Learned for Discretionary Federal Transportation Funding Programs,