New Starts

# Capital Investment Grant Program (a.k.a. “New Starts Program”)

The “New Starts” Program is the federal government’s primary funding program for major capital transit projects. It effectively began in 1976 through a revision of Chapter 49, Section 5309 (opens new window) of the United States Code although it existed in various forms prior to that date. The project is administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) (opens new window). Policy adjustments occur via legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President. The most recent such example is Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (opens new window), which was signed into law in 2015.

The Capital Investment Grant Program is a discretionary funding source, which means that the administrative agency has the authority to decide which projects receive funding. To accomplish this task, the FTA continually evaluates projects according to criteria provided by Congress and specified through FTA rule-making. Project evaluation is performed by assigning ratings for each project across a variety of categories as well as an overall rating. Ratings are among the most rigorous in the federal government. Project ratings are submitted to Congress each year, typically around February and coinciding with the President’s budget proposal to Congress. Sufficiently high ratings are required for a project to progress through project development.

The majority of the projects in the program are fixed-guideway transit projects, meaning they use or occupy a separate right-of-way such as rails, catenaries, or exclusive bus lanes. This includes rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit (BRT). However, ferry projects and corridor-based BRT projects that do not use an exclusive bus lane but have other characteristics similar to rail transit service are also eligible.

There are three categories in the Capital Investment Grant Program: “New Starts”, “Core Capacity”, and “Small Starts”. Each has distinct qualification requirements and rating criteria. To qualify for New Starts, a project has a capital cost of at least $250 million or is requesting at least $75 million of Section 5309 funding. Core Capacity projects are defined as substantial corridor-based investments in an existing fixed-guideway system that will increase capacity in the corridor by not less than10 percent. Small Starts projects have a capital cost of less than $250 million requesting less than $75 million of Section 5309 funding.

Regardless of its category, all projects must be evaluated and rated on a set of statutorily defined project justification and local financial commitment criteria and receive and maintain at least a “Medium” overall rating to advance through the various steps to be eligible for funding. New Starts and Core Capacity projects go through three steps - Project Development, Engineering, and Construction. Small Starts projects go through two steps - Project Development and Construction.

For project evaluation in the Capital Investment Grant Program (opens new window), FTA allows the use of region-wide travel models, incremental data-driven models, or FTA’s Simplified Trips-on-Project Software (STOPS). The choice is at the project sponsor’s option.

FTA will be providing additional details about the Program in subsequent guidance. This page will be amended upon release of that guidance.

# Other Resources

  1. FTA’s Capital Investment Grant Program Fact Sheet (opens new window) is very useful to get summary information of the New Starts program, planning process, and project ratings.
  2. FTA released its Final Rule (opens new window) on the Capital Investment Grant Program on January 9, 2013. The Interim Policy Guidance (opens new window) was released in 2016.
  3. FTA’s Annual Reports on Funding Recommendations to Congress (opens new window), which contains project summaries and evaluation results.

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