Transportation grants administered by the U.S. Federal government are primary means by which communities fund their critical road, highway and freight projects. The transportation infrastructure in the United States includes more than 4 million miles of roads and roadways, many of which are in need of repair, safety improvements or expansion to meet growing demand. Yet despite the need, the United States has been underfunding its transportation infrastructure–particularly funding for roads and highways–leading to a backlog totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.
There is some good news though in that three transportation infrastructure grant funding programs are currently accepting applications. These transportation grants will provide funding for road and highway improvements throughout the United States. Here is a brief overview of the three transportation grant programs that are currently open and accepting applications:
1. FTA Tribal Transit Program
The official name of this transportation grant program is the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program; Tribal Transit Program. This is a program exclusive for Native Americans living on Indian reservations as provided for in Section 5311(j) of the FAST Act, Public Law 114-94 (December 4, 2015).
Under this program, recognized Native American tribes can receive funding for setting up from scratch or adopting and improving an already existing public transit in a reservation. The program consists of a $30 million formula program and a $5 million competitive grant program. Applications are due July 9, 2019.
Covered under this program are the expenses for planning a transit system, acquisition of capital, the operating costs of the equipment and facilities to be used in that system, and operation and administrative expenses incurred.
The fund can also be used to buy vehicles and other assets, as well as to enter into contracts with existing transit service providers.
Who is eligible to apply for the Tribal Transit Program?
Only tribes recognized by the US federal government are encouraged to apply for this type of funding. However, tribes that do not fall under this category may still apply for this program as a sub-recipient for funding under the state’s apportionment.
What makes the Tribal Transit Program unique?
One advantage with this program is that its grantees can engage in activities such as meal delivery services to persons who are no longer able to leave their homes as long as the service doesn’t conflict with the public transportation service.
2. BUILD Transportation Grant Program
BUILD stands for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development. The BUILD Transportation Grant Program is intended to provide capital funding specifically for road, port and freight rail projects. It has $1.5 billion ready for those eligible and has provided a combined $7.1 billion for 554 projects all over the US, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands since 2009.
Who is eligible to apply for the BUILD Grant?
Any public entity, as well as municipalities, counties, port authorities, state, local and tribal governments and other political subdivisions of state or local governments. US territories, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) may also apply.
Multiple states or jurisdictions are also allowed to submit a joint application as long as they specify a lead applicant and primary recipient of the project. Joint applicants must also clearly define their roles.
What makes the BUILD Grant unique?
The BUILD program uses a merit-based system to choose which projects to fund. So while applying for and getting chosen for funding can be a challenge, the rewards can be immense.
Also, because BUILD wants to prioritize those who have a difficult time getting funds using regular federal channels, the grant is focused on projects located in rural areas that have local or regional impact. Applications for the BUILD Transportation Grant Program are due July 15, 2019.
3. Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) Demonstration Program
While other grants focus on setting up systems and building facilities, the IMI Demonstration Program likes to focus on effective practices, partnerships, and technologies that improve the traveler experience as well as enhance the effectiveness, safety, and efficiency of public transport.
For its 2019 notice of funding opportunity, the FTA is dangling $15 million for projects involving Mobility on Demand, Strategic Transit Automation Research, and Mobility Payment Integration.
Who is eligible to apply for the IMI Demonstration Program?
The program is open to anyone with a viable idea on how to improve or transform the traveling experience.
What makes the IMI Demonstration Program unique?
As opposed to other transportation grants that like to focus on huge mass transport systems, the IMI program encourages applicants to come up with ideas that integrate different modes of public as well as personal transportation like bike-sharing and carpooling.
Developing a Competitive Transportation Grant Proposal
While it’s great that the U.S. Federal government is making these transportation grants available to support infrastructure improvements, it’s important to note that these programs are highly competitive. On average, only about 3% to 8% of all grant proposals submitted actually get funded. I have years of experience working as a peer review team leader for dozens of different state and federal funding programs. In my experience, not following the directions is the number one reason most proposals don’t get funded.
When I say ‘not following the directions,’ I mean that proposal writers left questions unanswered or in many cases, did not include required attachments. In talking with applicants whose proposals were rejected, I often find that they did not address questions or include required attachments because they did not understand what the program wanted or required.
Another reason many transportation grants do not get funded is because the proposal writers fail to make a strong quantitative case for the project. When the goal is to secure transportation funding, it is critical that the proposal writer quantify the benefits that will be realized through the proposed project. Examples of some of the quantitative benefits that transit projects can bring about include:
- Improved safety (reducing accidents)
- Increased traffic flow (fewer traffic jams)
- Lower emissions
- Reduced travel time
These are just a few of the many ways in which transportation improvement projects can demonstrate quantitative benefits. Using a Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA) is an excellent way to quantify the benefits of transit projects or road improvement projects. A BCA is a systematic process for calculating and comparing benefits and costs of a project for two purposes:
- To determine if the proposed transportation improvement is a sound investment (justification/feasibility); and
- To see how the project compares with alternate projects (ranking/priority assignment).
Be forewarned though, preparing a complete and effective BCA requires a lot of effort and planning. A strong BCA cannot be prepared as an afterthought.
If you are interested in learning more about how to secure transportation funding or transportation grants, contact me today and let’s talk. I have secured more than $40 million in funding for transportation infrastructure projects and might be able to help you secure the funding you need for your transit project.