By Caron Whitaker
Reprinted with permission from America Bikes.
The new transportation law that Congress passed this June — MAP-21 — officially became law on Monday, October 1. In preparation, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) at the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) today released interim guidance to help state DOTs implement the new Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).
US DOT guidance is an instruction manual for states on how to carry out the law that Congress passed. Guidance is based on a legal reading of the law, the intent of members of Congress, and US DOT's interpretation.
Today's round of guidance is “interim,” meaning that it only includes the most basic interpretation of the law. US DOT is expected to release more guidance later this fall.
A step forward
As biking and walking advocates, we were hoping that the guidance from US DOT would improve a disappointing bill. Guidance can't change the meaning of the law, but the DOT's interpretation of the law can make funding easier or harder to access.
Because the bill was written so hastily, there were a few areas where the drafting was vague and could have been interpreted in two different ways. However, due to a strong effort by our champions in Congress and inside US DOT, the guidance overall is positive.
Among the wins:
TAP maintains local control over biking and walking funds, preserving the original intentions of Senators Cardin and Cochran.
There was some concern that the language could be interpreted to make state DOTs eligible for 50% of TAP. This would have diminished local control over half of these essential funds. Fortunately, state DOTs remain ineligible for TAP funding.
However, State DOTs and MPOs can partner with eligible entities to carry out a project. This increases flexibility for states and helps local governments get the help they need while maintaining local control.
Safe Routes to School coordinators are eligible under TAP.
MAP-21 was written in a way that makes the entire Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program eligible for Transportation Alternatives funding, but not required. This made it difficult for the DOT lawyers to interpret whether requirements under the old SRTS program should be requirements under the new TAP. However, DOT does interpret SRTS coordinators to be eligible under TAP. We believe that fully staffing these programs is critical to successfully implementing them.
The DOT will provide a model MPO and State Grant process.
While TAP legislative language does not define a competitive process, the DOT has committed to publish a model Request for Proposal or Notice of Funds Available that States and MPOS may use at their discretion. Having a model available should speed up the process of MPOs getting their grant programs up and running.
Nonprofits, while not eligible to receive funds, can partner with other eligible entities.
The legislative language is clear that nonprofit organizations and NGOs are not eligible for TAP funding. However, the guidance states that nonprofits can continue to partner with any eligible entity. Watch for the model grant program to see if such partnerships are incentivized.
Among the losses:
SRTS projects are no longer 100% federally funded.
Under previous transportation laws, Safe Routes to School projects were completely federally funded. This level of federal support was especially important for low-income communities. Read more on the SRTS blog http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/blog
Bicycling and pedestrian safety and education programs for adults are not eligible.
Non-infrastructure safety and education programs are no longer eligible for funding — not even under the new Safe Routes for Non-Drivers eligibility. The guidance does point out, though, that adult safety and education programs are eligible under the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and the Surface Transportation Program (STP). It also points out that education for kindergarten through eighth grade is eligible under Safe Routes to School.
Next steps: speak up locally & turn to the larger programs
We can take two clear messages from today’s guidance.
1. State and local action is critical to ensure funding for biking and walking projects and programs.
In MAP-21, local leaders — like mayors and school boards — have more direct access to federal funding for biking and walking infrastructure. Now more than ever before, it is up to state and local advocates to make communities more bike-friendly and walkable.
To learn more about how to get involved in a campaign in your state, visit Advocacy Advance's Navigating MAP-21 resource center at <http://www.advocacyadvance.org/MAP21>AdvocacyAdvance.org/MAP21.
2. Accessing funds from the transportation bill's larger programs is more important than ever.
Larger highway programs like the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), and Surface Transportation Program (STP) are not only more essential sources for infrastructure dollars, but also for funding education, encouragement, and safety programs.
If you're interested in learning how to maximize eligibility for biking and walking projects under MAP-21's largest programs, view Advocacy Advance's webinar featuring America Bikes' campaign director, Caron Whitaker.
Most of the areas on which we had issued recommendations have still not been determined. We will, of course, continue working at the federal level to advocate for changes to improve funding opportunities for biking and walking projects.
Click “Read More” to view America Bikes' full analysis.
League of American Bicyclists