Bus grants lead way to bonding opportunities

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Federal grants will push forward future bond issuances for a downtown connection center in Flagstaff, Arizona, after its state department of transportation received $17.3 million from the Federal Transit Administration.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced on Monday that the FTA awarded $423 million in grants to revitalize bus infrastructure. The grant money allotted to the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority in Flagstaff was one of the largest awards among 94 total projects.

The FTA’s funding supports projects to replace, rehabilitate and purchase buses and related equipment, as well as bus-related facilities.

"More people travel by bus than any other form of public transportation," said FTA acting Administrator K. Jane Williams. "This administration is committed to rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure and helping to improve bus service nationwide."

In Flagstaff, its transit system Mountain Line is relocating its Downtown Connection Center due to a flood control project and will also buy zero-emissions buses as its current fleet retires. Mountain Line has a completely hybrid-electric fleet and serves more than 2.5 million riders a year on nine routes.

Mountain Line has not bonded before, but they are in talks with its metropolitan planning organization and with the city of Flagstaff for a larger project to bring nearby Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway to its new connection center. Together, they could look to bonding as a way to move the project forward. Mountain Line currently has a dedicated transit tax to fund projects.

“We are very much in the informational gathering phase so we have been having very high-level conversations about possibilities,” said Erika Mazza, Mountain Line CEO and general manager. With the grant in place and significant funding toward the connection center from Mountain Line, bonding could become more possible, Mazza said.

Mazza said both rail lines have shown interest in moving to their site. Amtrak uses tracks owned by BNSF. The Amtrak station in Flagstaff needs some upgrades in terms of American Disability Act platform assistance, Mazza said.

“Now that you have all these other pieces to the puzzle, it would make bonding more favorable, if it wasn’t already favorable before,” Mazza said.

Bonding could help move the connection center project faster, Mazza said. The center would just be moved slightly west due to flood control.

Besides charging stations for Mountain Line buses and Amtrak moving in, the center could also be a drop-off spot for ride share companies like Uber and Lyft, Mazza said.

Mountain Line had previously received a grant through the FTA for the planning and development of the connection center.

Demand for the FTA’s bus and bus facilities program exceeded available funds, the agency said in a press release. It received applications for 318 eligible projects totaling about $1.9 billion in funding requests.

Other projects that received grants from the FTA were the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority for $17.2 million to construct a new operations and maintenance facility to replace an outdated and undersized facility. The new building will be in Des Moines, away from its current facility’s flood-prone area.

New Jersey Transit also received $17.2 million from the FTA to purchase new 60-foot buses in Northern New Jersey to meet growing demand for its services.

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