WATCH: Christopher Coes, U.S. Department of Transportation, and Hilary Norton, California Transportation Commission, Discuss Funding Opportunities
How can the region be competitive when applying for state and federal funding?
On February 17, 2022, Christopher Coes, principal deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), and Hilary Norton, California Transportation Commission (CTC) chair, spoke to the SACOG Board of Directors about upcoming opportunities to receive competitive state and federal transportation funding.
Coes focused on the additional resources local governments will have access to through the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law in late 2021. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) marks the largest investment in transportation infrastructure in U.S. history; in fact, it’s the largest investment that’s been made since the creation of the interstate highway system. Coes stated, “This bill is guaranteed to benefit California and the SACOG region for decades to come.” Like many areas, the Sacramento region has been suffering from a lack of investment; but with the increased funding opportunities that are listed below, the SACOG region can expect to make great strides in improving our infrastructure.
- $100 billion in competitive federal grants
- $29 billion over five years in federal highway formula dollars to repair or replace bridges and highways
- $179 million over the next five years to improve highway safety programs
- California will receive $1.5 billion for airports and rail improvements
- 24 percent increase in formula funding for surface transportation block grants
- 65 percent of the carbon reduction program will be sub-allocated to local-level governments
- $1.5 billion in new discretionary funding through Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants
- $2.5 billion will be rolled out for electric vehicle charging stations
- $6 billion to reduce roadway fatalities and create more walkable communities
- Reconnecting Communities pilot program
With all the new funding opportunities, how can the SACOG region be competitive? Coes explained that innovative and impactful projects are more likely to receive funding. When beginning the planning process, Coes urges us to ask ourselves, “How can we make our communities thrive, be more accessible, and be climate friendly while addressing the harms of past infrastructure projects?” With many new grant programs and discretionary funding opportunities, Coes relays that plans will be evaluated based on key criteria and project elements that advance job creation, safety, equity, and climate resilience. Beyond formula programs and grant programs, DOT has taken several initiatives to support disadvantaged, underserved, and rural communities.
Hilary Norton expanded on Coes’ presentation with a look at how this funding will be funneled through the State of California and into our local governments. She explained that the state will be an extraordinary partner in attaining funding from the programs Coes discussed, especially when leveraging SB 1’s $54 billion as a down payment. Norton recognized that applying to SB 1 can be extremely competitive but stated that if a plan can highlight the goals that were identified during the funding cycle, then jurisdictions will be more competitive applicants. For this round Norton reminds applicants to highlight plans that include multimodal options, congestion relief, safety enhancements, equity, and greenhouse gas reductions.
As an example, Norton called attention to a successful grant application, the Placer-Sacramento Gateway Plan, which identified bike paths, complete streets, transit, trail connections, and highway improvements along I-80, Business 80, Highway 50, and Highway 65, four of the busiest corridors in the region. These identifications aim to improve safety, lessen delays, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and lower carbon emissions.
To stay competitive, Norton reminds us, “A key takeaway when looking at what to do with capacity needs is to keep the three M’s in mind: managed, multimodal, and meaningful.” She stated that when planning, jurisdictions should focus on building in equity, safety, and opportunities to help transit operations and multimodal options along the corridors. Norton also recommends looking into what she calls a “dig once scenario,” which means including electric vehicle conveyance, broadband, and stormwater infrastructure in plans.
In short, both Coes and Norton recommend that to be competitive for funding opportunities the region will need to step away from status quo planning. They expect that funding will be awarded to plans that have more community engagement, multimodal options, equity, safety, and sustainability built in.