Metro is no longer pursuing a fast-approaching Sept. 14 deadline to apply for federal transit funds for Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed bus rapid transit project.
Instead, the Metro Transit Authority announced Thursday they would be seeking entry into the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program under MAP-21, a new transportation law that goes into effect Oct. 1.
The move shifts Metro and its transit consultants to a new, but still-unidentified, application deadline. Metro officials insist the goal of a late 2015 east-west connector opening won’t be jeopardized even though funding wouldn’t be available until 2014.
“We’ll still continue to move forward with our preliminary engineering for this project, and everything else,” said Jim McAteer, MTA’s director of planning and grants. “I don’t see it as being a major delay. We’re targeting the end of 2015.”
Dean has proposed a new 8-mile bus rapid transit line along Broadway-West End , across the Cumberland River to East Nashville. A prerequisite for the estimated $174 million project is landing up to $75 million from the federal government.
For months, Metro officials had referenced a Sept. 14 grant application deadline, which is outlined in the federal government’s existing SAFETEA-LU transit program. But on June 29, Congress passed MAP-21, or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which has added new transit provisions.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on what impact that would have on the project,” McAteer said.
McAteer said the Sept. 14 deadline outlines application rules that will change Oct. 1. “We would be applying under the old rules and it really doesn’t make sense to do that, considering on Oct. 1 they change,” he said.
McAteer said Metro is now in a wait-and-see period until FTA releases new guidelines on how to proceed under the new law. “In all honesty, we don’t know when FTA will come out with new guidance,” he said. “We’re hopeful, and it’s possible, that it could come out as early as this fall.”
According to McAteer, Metro has consultants in Washington, D.C., to help follow the grant process and the flow of funds.
“We just heard from them recently that Congress is looking at reducing the amount that would be available through the Small Starts program by about $200 million,” McAteer said.
Projects nationwide already in the pipeline would likely use all available funding, he said.
An east-west connector press release added: “Some of those projects will reach completion in the next year, which puts the East-West Connector in a better position to receive funds in 2014.”
The delay in seeking federal transit funds could have one silver lining. Metro officials had worried that the Metro Council’s failure to approve a massive rezoning of Midtown  properties last month would hurt the city’s transit funding application.
With a later deadline, the council would likely be able to approve the rezoning before Metro submits its application.