Table of contents
- What type of funding is the Transportation Alternatives set-aside?
- How much funding is available?
- Who can apply?
- How can the funds be used?
- Can the funds be transferred?
- Is there a matching requirement?
- What about equity?
- Where can I apply?
For more than three decades, the Transportation Alternatives (TA) set-aside has been the largest dedicated source of funding for pedestrian, bike, and trail infrastructure in the United States. It has funded the construction and improvement of countless crosswalks, sidewalks, and other facilities known to promote active transportation and economic vitality, all while decreasing congestion, pollution, and health care costs.
Given its positive and lasting impact, it isn’t surprising the federal government decided to give the program a major boost under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), often referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The law nearly doubles funding for the TA set-aside, from $850 million annually to an average amount of $1.44 billion from 2022 through 2026.
With unprecedented levels of funding for pedestrian facilities, safe routes to school initiatives, and other multimodal projects, now is the time for states and local governments to take advantage. This article will cover some of the key changes to the TA set-aside, including eligible uses, transferability, state matching, and equity. Additional information can be found in the implementation guidance issued by the FHWA.
What type of funding is the Transportation Alternatives set-aside?
Though nominally a “grant” under federal regulation, no money is provided upfront, with funds dispersed only on a reimbursement basis. The amount available to each state is calculated according to federal formulas, and each state is responsible for administering its own competitive selection process, which is often done in partnership with regional and local planning organizations.
How much funding is available?
One of the many changes to the TA set-aside under the BIL is that it is now a percentage of the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program (10%) rather than a fixed dollar amount as it was under the FAST Act. This means that going forward, funding for transportation alternatives will grow in proportion to other surface transportation, with $1.38 billion available in 2022, up to nearly $1.5 billion in 2026.
Who can apply?
In addition to dramatically increasing the dollar amount of the TA set-aside, the BIL also expanded the range of applicants eligible. Eligible entities now include:
- Local governments
- Regional transportation authorities
- Transit agencies
- Natural resource or public land agencies
- School districts, local education agencies, or schools
- Tribal governments
- Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) serving urbanized areas with populations under 200,000 (NEW)
- Non-profit agencies (NEW – no longer needs to be “responsible for the administration of local safety programs)
- Any other local or regional governmental entity responsible for transportation or recreational trails
- States, at the request of any entity listed above (NEW)
The expanded eligibility effectively gives smaller community organizations better access to funding and support, with “pots” specifically allocated to urban areas with populations under 200,000.
How can the funds be used?
According to a press release from the FHWA, TA set-aside funds can be used “to advance critically important projects that improve safety and accessibility for all and use a Complete Streets approach to create safe, connected, and equitable street and trail networks.”
This could be anything from crosswalks to bike lanes to Safe Routes to School projects. The BIL also adds project eligibility for “vulnerable road user safety assessments,” which states are now required to complete under the Highway Safety Improvement Plan (HSIP). (We’ll have more details on HSIP in a future article.)
Can the funds be transferred?
Previously, states could transfer 50% of their TA set-aside funds to other uses prior to holding a grant competition. One report found that $1.5 billion, or about one third of TA funding was “lost through transfers” between 2013 and 2020, meaning it was diverted to projects outside the scope of TA, such as road widening or reconstruction.
While the option to transfer funds out of the program does still exist under the BIL, transfers will only be authorized if states can certify they have held a competition, provided technical assistance to applicants, and demonstrated that any remaining unfunded projects are not of high enough quality to be funded.
As for transferring funds from other federal aid programs into TA, the 50% rule remains intact. States can transfer up to 50% of funds from a variety of programs, including STBG, HSIP, and others in order to maximize their investment in multimodal and active transportation.
Is there a matching requirement?
Whereas states were previously required to have a 20% match for all projects, the BIL provides new flexibility, allowing the state to average the 20% (i.e., if one organization or community can’t come up with the full 20%, it could be buoyed by another so long as the 20% requirement is met state-wide). HSIP funds can also be used as the local match.
What about equity?
As with other programs in the BIL, TA includes new language and guidance around equity, requiring states to define “high need” communities and prioritize them in project selection. Additionally, states are now authorized to use up to 5% of their TA funds for “administrative and technical assistance,” making it easier for underserved and underrepresented communities to access the program.
When and where can I apply?
Grants for 2022 have already been awarded (click through to see some examples of projects in Pennsylvania and Maryland), and most states are currently in the process of reviewing applications for 2023.
As the application process and deadlines vary from state to state, the best thing to do is contact your state DOT. If you’ve missed the deadline for this round, remember the BIL covers up until 2026, with more funding being added each year. It’s never to early to begin your application, or to research other funding options for your project.
TA set-aside guidance (FHWA)
TA/BIL fact sheet (FHWA)
Using TA to improve safety and health in your local community (Safe Routes to School)
Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (Rails to Trails)
Traffic Safety Grants and Funding (Carmanah)