AASHTO Journal

FTA: States Will Lose Transit Funding If They Miss 2019 Deadline for Safety Oversight Program

The Federal Transit Administration said it has notified the 30 states where rail transit systems operate that federal law requires they establish an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight program by April 15, 2019, but is urging states to submit their paperwork a year in advance to assure they clear any and all hurdles in time.

The agency said it "strongly recommends" that states submit their SSO certification applications by next April 15, to give it and them enough time to go through the full process.

It also warned that "states should not assume" any applications submitted after Sept. 30, 2018, "will receive a decision on certification by April 15, 2019. In some cases, the FTA may need to do onsite verifications, or states may need to correct and resubmit parts of their applications. All of these activities must be completed before the deadline."

capitol0816.jpgIf a state fails to obtain certification by the deadline, the FTA said it is prohibited by federal law "from obligating any funds to public transportation agencies throughout that state until certification is achieved."

FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes said: "The affected states should act to establish an FTA-certified SSO program that is compliant with federal law and provides the highest level of safety for their rail transit riders and workers. States need to realize timely action is critical. By law, the April 2019 deadline cannot be waived or extended, and the FTA cannot obligate federal transit funds to transit agencies within the state without a certified SSO program after that date."

When the agency's SSO program final regulation took effect in April 2016, it set a three-year time frame for states to obtain certification.

Now, with the deadline less than two years away, the FTA said it is "encouraging states to act quickly to enact any necessary legislation, statutes and regulations, particularly those states whose legislatures meet only part-time or biennially. Currently, there are nine states remaining that still require legislative action at the state level prior to FTA certification."

The SSO regulation requires states to have a program in place to oversee rail transit operations, the FTA said, and provides greater authority for safety oversight agencies to oversee implementation of area transit agencies' safety plans. By getting certified by the FTA, "an SSO program will demonstrate that it has the authority, resources and expertise it needs to oversee the rail transit systems in its state," the announcement said.

The FTA said that since 2014 it has provided states with about $90 million in SSO formula grants to help them develop and implement SSO programs that meet federal requirements.

In addition, to help them meet the 2019 deadline, the FTA provided an online "toolkit" with guidance for managing the certification process, and said it is maintaining frequent contact with states and SSO agencies to provide assistance.

It also posted a status table showing each state's progress toward achieving FTA certification, and the approximate amount of transit funds that the FTA would be prohibited from obligating should the state fail to meet the deadline.

The status table showed that as of June 19 seven states had submitted all required documents and were in talks with the FTA toward certification, although none had yet received SSO program certification.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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