Originally Posted by Crawford
And federal dollars are only appropriated for a handful of applicants each year. The primary criteria is ridership per $$.
Not exactly. The Federal government cares mostly about ridership per Federal dollar. Local authorities get to decide what percentage of the total cost to request from the Feds, up to 80%. By increasing the local share and decreasing the Federal share, they can make their projects more competitive on a Federal level.
According to the article, the total cost is $371 million, with a $220 million local share and $150 million Federal. This means that the cost will be split roughly 60% local, 40% federal.
If Michigan had decided to request the maximum 80% of the total cost from the Feds, then its "Federal cost-effectiveness" would be cut in half, and its prospects in Washington would be much bleaker.
Essentially, USDOT wants to fund as many transit projects as possible under limited funding, so they tend to approve projects with higher local shares. However, since not all projects can be funded, the FTA must still choose winners and losers, which is why they are concerned at some level with overall
cost-effectiveness and, to some degree, geographic fairness. That last bit is an important advantage for Detroit, which currently has very little in the way of rail transit.
Political concerns are also important; a state whose senators and congressmen express strong interest in specific transit projects are likely to see those projects funded. Obama's administration has showed signs of a progressive (and expensive) urban policy, which would serve to greatly benefit a place like Detroit.