Transportation Funding Outside the Box

3 min. read
February 5, 2019

You missed the deadline. Your project doesn’t qualify. You simply didn’t make the cut. Whatever reason you were unable to get the federal or state grants you applied for this year, there is still ample opportunity to find the transportation funding you need.

Rural projects are now well-represented for bigger grants like BUILD, but with 851 eligible applications in 2018 vying for $1.5 billion in funding—of which 59% were rural—the competition can be a barrier to success. In 2018, only 62 rural projects were awarded funds, with 29 more in urban areas. That’s 91 total projects out of 851 applications.

Thinking outside the box for funding can help, especially in a smaller, tight-knit community that can get behind your traffic safety or walkability project. Here are a few ideas to get started.

New Approaches to Transportation Funding

  • Community foundations: Gaining community support is vital for any project. Once you have heard that the community is behind you, seeking out groups who may be able to contribute financially is the next step. If your community has a foundation (check here), it may have grants available for local projects like yours. Or, it may be able to donate some of the planning or grant-writing costs that could be a barrier to your project getting started.

  • Local businesses: Much like community foundations, local businesses may be able to get behind your project financially. In-kind donations, staff time, event sponsorship, or other assistance could help lower costs or raise awareness.
  • Local taxes: Property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, or fuel taxes on a local basis can be used to fund transportation projects, if the state authorizes it. For example, Marin County, California, has a half-cent transportation sales tax approved in 2004 for 20 years; 11% of the proceeds goes to Safe Routes to School programs, infrastructure, and more.

  • Transportation bonds: Bonds are popular ways for municipalities to raise funds for transportation projects, since there isn’t a need to raise taxes immediately to cover the costs of a project. Instead, the municipality gets the money up-front and pays it back over time with interest. Usually, a general obligation bond would be backed by income tax or sales tax; meanwhile, a revenue bond would be backed by bridge tolls or transit fares. Bonds must be approved by local voters.
  • Lawmakers: Try your state representatives for funding. There may be residual funding or state appropriations available that could work for your project.

  • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding means getting small contributions from individuals in the local community (or even beyond). Using a crowdfunding website is the easiest way to raise money, although a fee is usually required for using the platform. Indiegogo is the most common platform, but Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or other crowdfunding resources may be better for your project.

Crowdfunding in action: In Nevada, Missouri, the non-profit organization Healthy Nevada raised $143,000 through crowdfunding to build the first Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant trail in the community.

  • Events: Similar to crowdfunding, events are a way to encourage community members to contribute to a specific project in their own backyard. When the community is not in favor of higher taxes to pay for a project, holding fundraising events can help donors see exactly how their money will be used and holding the government accountable to that.
  • Traffic fines and fees: While they can bring their own set of woes, traffic fines and fees collected from red light cameras and speed cameras can rake in a large amount of money that may be available for your project.

Several of these ideas came from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership website. Explore their active transportation financing section for more financing tips.

Learn more

State and federal grants can be the backbone of your project. Get started by learning the basics of grant applications and opportunities.


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