Yonah discusses issues related to the Columbus plans for a light rail line using the stimulus funding. I would note that it was partially because of the FTA's cost effectiveness index that this corridor project got killed. They gave Columbus a large CEI for both light rail and BRT projects. It just shows how they have always been looking at the wrong metrics and hold transit to a different standard than roads.
That brings us though to the issue of what that CEI has wrought in terms of projects moving forward around the country as well as thier timline.
One of the problems with the current thinking on transit and the "ready to go-ness" of them is that people think that the current speed at which transit projects get done is how it has always been. This is wrong and simply a function of how broken the funding system has become. Obviously it shouldn't have taken Charlotte 10 years to build their first rail line but it was trying to get through the federal funding program that took so long. This gives lawmakers a poor idea of how actually long it will take.
We need to push back hard on assumptions that the lines can not be started within a three month or even a year period after the stimulus money is let. That assumes also we don't get rolled by state DOTs (aka highway departments) which is another outrage entirely. There should be some sort of experementation with design build in these transit projects, especially since many of them will be street running, even with thier own ROW. It's not as if engineers will not be in need of funding for thier businesses either. This recession is hitting everyone, not just construction workers.
But we can see how fast things can go when they are planned from Portland and Seattle. Portland announced the alignment in 1997 and the line was open in 2001. In Seattle, it took 5 years from thought to operations. This is half the time it took Charlotte to open and possibly shows that if you have an alignment and the funding, it can be designed and moved forward in short order. In the next few years we'll have a few more examples with Salt Lake moving so fast on thier lines, hopefully a few more because of the stimulus.