The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has invited applications for the next round of its competitive, multimodal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program (formerly known as TIGER under the Obama Administration and BUILD under the Trump Administration). This round promises to be your best chance yet to secure $5 million to $25 million to build your trail and other active-transportation connections, or a big planning grant to get your regional system ready.
A rapidly growing cadre of communities of all sizes and types has inspiring plans to make it safe, convenient and enjoyable to walk or bike to everyday destinations like stores, schools and jobs—or even to connect to the next town over. In a quick survey of partners, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) learned of more than $7 billion worth of projects to connect trail and active transportation infrastructure, making it safer and more convenient for pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchair users to get around.
Fulfilling those plans would be transformative, making our communities safer, healthier and cleaner, as well as more equitable and prosperous. To achieve this transformation, communities need sizeable grants to close gaps between existing sidewalks, bike lanes and multiuse trails to create seamless connections from residences to workplaces, schools, shops, transit, services, parks and more.
Existing sources of public funding for active transportation infrastructure are critical for building individual projects just about anywhere, but they are often too small and diffused to build connected networks in a reasonable timeframe. The best solution would be dedicated federal grants directly to communities to rapidly build out their systems. The Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program—authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in November—is the ideal vehicle for this, but it won’t be implemented until it receives a federal budget appropriation. Securing a Fiscal Year 2023 appropriation to launch that program is a top priority for RTC.
In the meantime, communities will need to be resourceful to move their networks forward. Fortunately, the time is now to apply for the next best federal option to meet the need for concentrated investments to connect active transportation infrastructure. RAISE offers an opportunity to receive as much as $25 million for a transportation project with significant local or regional impacts. USDOT is taking new applications until April 14 to be considered for the available $1.5 billion in this round of RAISE grants.
While the priorities and scale of the program are on target for significant active-transportation connectivity projects, RAISE puts active transportation in direct competition with roads, bridges, transit and ports for scarce dollars and is extremely competitive. However, this cycle marks the best opportunity yet to successfully secure a grant for trail and active transportation systems because:
- The odds of securing funding for trails, walking and biking vary with political winds. Current decision-makers at USDOT are highly attuned to the safety, equity and climate benefits of these projects. The last round of grants in November marked unprecedented success for trails, which received $183 million in funding and 19% of the total funds granted. Complete Streets safety measures received another 21% of the total. Combined, investments relevant to safe walking and biking represented 40% of the total amount granted!
- Changes in the evaluation criteria will help trail and other active-transportation investments rise to the top. Notably, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law added “mobility and community connectivity” to the criteria for RAISE, and core decision-making values for USDOT will include safety, equity and climate. Quality of life and environmental sustainability are also priorities. USDOT has a new road safety strategy that recognizes the importance of safe, connected routes. Equity is defined as reducing transportation cost burdens and barriers to opportunity. Showing how your network will contribute to addressing these priority issues—including providing data, where available—will increase your competitiveness.
- There’s more money to be had. A total of $1.5 billion in grants are currently on the table—50% more than last year. In addition, significantly more funding could be forthcoming this year depending on the outcome of the FY 2022 appropriations process.
In the future, there should be a dedicated source for concentrated grants for trail and active transportation networks. In the meantime, conditions are unusually favorable to compete for multimodal RAISE grants. RTC and FHWA offer resources to help you apply.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes some changes to familiar programs and adds new funding opportunities for trails and active transportation. RTC’s resources offer the latest information to assist in identifying appropriate potential federal funding opportunities for your trail and active transportation projects and taking the necessary actions to successfully apply for these opportunities.LEARN MORE