Good News, Bad News: Federal Highway Administration Interprets Transportation Bill

Darren Flusche, League Policy Director
October, 2012

Source: BikeLeague

The Federal Highway Administration issued guidance today to state departments of transportation on the Transportation Alternatives Program (TA) — a key piece of the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21. The guidance provides specifics for state agencies and resolves any ambiguities in the complex legislative language.

Today’s release is just the basics — an “interim” guidance. We expect more comprehensive guidance to be issued later in the fall. But here’s the good and bad news for bicyclists.

Good news:

  • Transportation Alternatives (TA) 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 percent of TA. This would have diminished local control over half of these essential funds. Fortunately, state DOTs remain ineligible for TA funding.
  • However, state DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (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 TA.
  • 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 TA program. However, DOT does interpret SRTS coordinators to be eligible under TA. 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 TA 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 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 TA 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.

Bad news:

  • 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.
  • 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 and turn to the larger programs

We can take two clear messages from today’s guidance:

  • 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’s 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 our Advocacy Advance Navigating MAP-21 resource center at AdvocacyAdvance.org/MAP21.
  • 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 and our reports on these funding sources.

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 here for more from our partners at America Bikes and here for more from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.