RAISE Funds for Your Trail and Active Transportation Network

Posted 04/22/21 by Kevin Mills in Policy

We’ve been writing to you quite a bit lately—as infrastructure is one of the hottest topics in Washington right now. Today, we have even more exciting updates from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

Last week, USDOT issued a solicitation (Notice of Funding Opportunity) inviting state, local and tribal governments to apply for a total of $1 billion in competitive grants for transportation projects under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program.

RAISE is the evolution of the program previously known as BUILD during the Trump Administration and TIGER during the Obama Administration. Since the program was created in 2009, USDOT has awarded nearly $9 billion in discretionary grants addressing all modes of transportation. The new program name signals a shift in focus, with changes in the criteria by which projects will be prioritized. There is now emphasis on climate, equity, safety and jobs—potentially giving trail and active transportation projects an advantage over the competition.

New application parameters include:

  • Individual grants capped at $25 million, with a state limit of $100 million. This gives trail and active transportation projects a greater opportunity to compete.
  • Up to $30 million in planning grants, including at least $10 million to Areas of Persistent Poverty.
  • A deadline of July 12to submit applications. These are FY 2021 discretionary grant funds.

Note: No more than half the funding will be awarded to projects located in urban and rural areas, respectively.

The program remains one of the few federal discretionary transportation programs for which regional and local governments can directly compete. USDOT will host a series of webinars during the application process.

RAISE provides a promising chance to apply for a sizeable investment in your trail or active transportation network. Over the life of TIGER/BUILD, more than $462 million has been invested in several dozen active transportation projects. Some projects have received more than $20 million each. While this program is very competitive, with 680 out of 9,700 applications having received funding, concentrated funding like this is always in short supply—but is exactly what communities say they need.

Despite stiff competition, chances for securing a grant for an active transportation project are likely much improved given the changes in the criteria and rules—and RTC encourages you to apply.

First and foremost, RAISE grants provide an opportunity for securing a large grant to fill gaps in your active transportation network or long-distance trail.

What’s more, the timeline aligns with Congress’ work to define the next surface transportation bill, and there is potential to leverage the RAISE application process to demonstrate the demand that exists for focused, dedicated funding for trail and active transportation networks. Strong demand could influence Congressional debate, creating pressure to provide future dedicated funding for connected walking and biking infrastructure—most notably the ongoing opportunities that would be provided by the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (S.684), with $500 million per year dedicated to connecting walking and biking facilities to key destinations within and between communities.

In preparing project applications, we recommend the following:

Identify aspects of your active-transportation network project that would be competitive for a RAISE grant and persuade an eligible public entity to apply (such as your municipality, county, tribal government, Metropolitan Planning Organization or state). Remember the emphasis on climate, equity, safety and jobs. If it’s helpful, you can gather data that demonstrates the impact of connected active-transportation systems on these issues in RTC’s report, Active Transportation Transforms America.

  • If your local jurisdiction agrees to apply, it will be valuable to participate in USDOT’s technical assistance webinar seriesThere are dates for webinars through May 12, and recordings of all webinars will be made available.
  • Reach out to the agency directly for insights on the application process by mid-May. This is also an opportunity to let contacts know to expect significant demand for trail and active transportation projects, elucidating the need for ongoing dedicated funding for active transportation networks. Reaching out by mid-May will help to ensure that USDOT is aware of the demand for active transportation network funding before Congressional committees debate the surface transportation bill.
  • If you cannot convince your local jurisdiction to seek funding for your project, please inform Mary Ellen at maryellen@railstotrails.org. This will help us document demand for active-transportation network funding that is hidden to USDOT behind other local transportation priorities, which is useful information as we make the case for dedicating federal funds for trails, walking and biking in the future.

During this process, we can impress USDOT with many compelling proposals that showcase the tremendous quality and quantity of demand for focused funding to create connected trail and active transportation networks. Plead your case early and often. These proposals will show that trail and active transportation networks are essential to an impactful investment strategy that fulfills the economic, environmental, equity and safety goals of the program. You can access research, case studies and talking points that can help frame your project’s proposal on the RTC website.

Together, we can secure near-term investments for some outstanding projects while shifting policies to ensure that everyone in America will gain access to safe, connected and convenient places to walk and bike.

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