Take advantage of flexible federal transportation funding


In recent years, states have been granted much more flexible use of federal transportation funding, yet many states have not tapped into this resource as effectively as they could. States demanded funding flexibility and got it in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and subsequent federal transportation reauthorization laws. Federal transportation investment programs are now largely mode-neutral and offer states vast flexibility to use funds for non-highway projects. States should become more aggressive in using these sources of funds to help improve the relationship between transportation projects and land use.


For example, all Surface Transportation Program funds (approximately $33 billion under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users legislation, or "SAFETEA-LU") can be "flexed" for use on transit or "complete street" projects that simultaneously provide facilities for cars, transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists. At least 50 percent of funding through the National Highway System ($31 billion under SAFETEA-LU) can be shifted to the Surface Transportation Program and, with U.S. Department of Transportation approval, a full 100 % could be shifted to that program. National Highway System funds can also be used for transit improvements in National Highway System corridors. Similarly, up to 50 percent of Interstate Maintenance funds ($25 billion under SAFETEA-LU) can be shifted to the Surface Transportation Program. Highway Safety Program funds ($5 billion under SAFETEA-LU) can be used to provide safety improvements not only for motorists, but also for pedestrians and bicyclists.

States may also use federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding to support smarter growth projects. A portion of federal transportation funding is reserved for projects in air quality non-attainment areas through the CMAQ program ($9 billion under SAFETEA-LU). Established in 1991 and reauthorized in 1997 and 2005, CMAQ provides critical support for transportation projects such as maintenance and improvement of public transportation and alternative fuel programs that reduce vehicle travel or traffic congestion. In the past, all CMAQ funds have not been used, and an opportunity exists to expand the use of CMAQ funds for transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly projects that will increase transportation choices, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and improve air quality. State transportation agencies can work collaboratively with state environmental agencies to develop criteria to prioritize CMAQ-funded projects that achieve multiple environmental benefits and improve development projects.


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