USDOT Issues $23M in Thriving Communities Funds

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded $23.6 million in Thriving Communities Program or TCP grants to three national “capacity builders” and six regional providers that will provide roughly 112 communities – including 12 tribal nations – with technical assistance so they can access federal infrastructure funding and resources.

[Above photo by the USDOT]

Managed by the Build America Bureau within USDOT, the program’s “technical assistance” includes a variety of tasks, from preparing application materials and predevelopment activities, to deploying innovative community engagement, workforce development, and clean technology strategies.

The agency said the overall TCP initiative – created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA – provides two years of no-cost technical assistance to help advance projects that improve health outcomes, reduce housing and transportation cost burdens, improve housing conditions, preserve or expand jobs, and increase reliable mobility options for “disadvantaged communities,” especially small, rural, and tribal ones.

USDOT noted that, out of the 64 communities selected to receive $22 million in TCP grants in 2023, some 37 have now also won federal funding for their communities through various USDOT discretionary grant programs such as Safe Streets and Roads for All program, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity or RAISE program, and the Rural and Tribal Assistance pilot program.  

“The Thriving Communities participants have proven that this technical assistance model can tremendously impact their success rate not only in competing for federal grants, but also in better utilizing innovative solutions to deliver their projects more efficiently and cost-effectively,” said Morteza Farajian, executive director of the Build America Bureau, in a statement.

The three national “capacity builders” receiving fiscal year 2023 TCP funds are:  

  • Rural Community Assistance Partnership Incorporated, in partnership with Community Engineering Corps, Communities Unlimited, Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, Midwest Assistance Program, National Association of Development Organizations, RCAP Solutions, and Rural Community Assistance Corporation, received over $4.2 million to support 16 “main street” programs. USDOT said “main street” funding is focused on tribal, rural, and small-town communities and the interconnected transportation, community, and economic development issues they face.
  • Abt Associates Inc., in partnership with EPR, P.C., Equitable Cities, Morgan State University, Nelson\Nygaard, Safe Routes Partnership, and Smart Growth America, received over $4.9 million to support 20 “complete neighborhoods communities” projects. Those projects focus on urban and suburban communities located within Metropolitan Planning Organization planning areas working to better advance complete streets policies and coordinate transportation with land use, housing, and economic development.
  • The Conference of Minority Transportation Officials or COMTO, in partnership with AECOM, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Accelerator for America, Two Degrees, ReConnect Rondo, and MWDBE Training Academy, received over $4.2 million to support 16 “networked communities” projects. Those projects are focused on communities located near ports, airports, freight, and rail facilities to address mobility, access, housing, environmental justice, and economic issues.

USDOT also provided $1 million to $2 million in funding each to six projects benefiting 60 communities in total through a new TCP Regional Pilot Program; a program that allows participants to support TCP activities to communities within their jurisdictions at a state or regional scale. Two projects overseen by state departments of transportation received funds as part of this TCO pilot program, USDOT noted:

  • The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in partnership with the Alaska Municipal League, receiving $2 million to support 18 communities, four of which are tribal nations.

The New York State Department of Transportation, in partnership with the with New York State Department of State and ICF Incorporated, received over $1 million to support five communities: the Town and Village of Alfred, the Village of Dolgeville, the Village of Margaretville, the Town and Village of Massena, and Wyoming County. 

FHWA Issues $729M to Support Natural Disaster Recovery

Via its Emergency Relief Program, the Federal Highway Administration is providing $729.4 million to 34 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico to support repairs to roads and bridges due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and mudslides.

[Above photo by Caltrans]

The FHWA noted that, since January 2022, it has distributed over $1.3 billion in Emergency Relief Program funds to help states repair infrastructure damaged due to a range of extreme weather events.

“These funds will help restore critical transportation connections across the country as communities continue to repair and rebuild infrastructure damaged by extreme weather,” noted Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a statement.

The FHWA said this round of emergency funding includes support for ongoing repairs to surface transportation infrastructure from flooding in and around Yellowstone Park in 2022; the impact from Hurricanes IanFiona, and Nicole in 2022; the flooding and mudslides that struck Vermont in 2023; and other natural disasters that occurred across the country over the last two years.

[Editor’s note: At the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2022 Annual Meeting in Orlando, a panel of state department of transportation and FHWA leaders discussed some of the lessons learned from hurricane recovery efforts undertaken by Florida and Puerto Rico.] The agency noted that this emergency funding aims to support the reconstructing highways and bridges as well as protect the travelling public from further damages and allow for resiliency improvements as infrastructure damage is repaired.

FHWA Issues Funds for National Park Storm Repairs

The Federal Highway Administration recently issued $4.575 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to offset costs of repair work for roads, trails, parking areas, and other infrastructure damaged by floods caused by Tropical Storm Hilary in Death Valley National Park and other western federal lands in August.

[Above photo by the National Park Service]

FHWA noted in a statement that its Emergency Relief program provides funding to states, territories, tribes, and federal land management agencies for highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.

Such “quick release” Emergency Relief funds are an initial resource installment to help restore essential transportation.

Additional funds needed to repair damages on the federal lands affected by Tropical Storm Hilary will be supported by the Emergency Relief program through further nationwide funding allocations, the agency said.

Tropical Storm Hilary’s record rainfall in late August resulted in flash flooding and debris flow across several states, including California and Nevada, for several days. Within Death Valley National Park, the flash flooding damaged numerous transportation facilities including roads, trails and parking areas, and resulted in roads being buckled or completely destroyed, bridges impacted, road surfacing lost, and damage caused by significant debris and erosion.

This tranche of FHWA emergency funding will also be used for repair work at the Manzanar Historic Site, San Bernardino National Forest, Inyo National Forest, and Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in California.

That emergency fiscal relief will also support flood damage projects in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada to repair transportation facilities, road segments, and collapsed culverts.

Podcast: Hawaii Paving Industry Talks Plastic Roads

Two bonus episodes of the AASHTO re:source podcast follow up with different perspectives on the recent “plastic roads” project initiated by the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

[Above image by Hawaii DOT]

AASHTO re:source – which launched this podcast series in September 2020 – is a major technical service program of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It provides services and tools through three major programs: the Laboratory Assessment Program, the Proficiency Sample Program, and the AASHTO Accreditation Program.

Part one and part two of this special “plastic road” podcast series covered Hawaii DOT’s effort to test the incorporation of recycled plastics into its road paving processes. Now the two follow-up bonus episodes provide exterior perspectives on the agency’s project.

The first bonus episode talks with Jon Young, executive director of the Hawaii Asphalt Paving Industry, about how the paving contractors and contractors his organization represent desire to be part of such projects at the front end so they can help develop “good plans” in order deliver good outcomes from such research. The second bonus episode will follow in the next few weeks.

“Such projects have to make sense economically [and] definitely must make the world better,” Young explained on the AASHTO re:source podcast. “We’re just trying to help them implement [this project] it smoothly as possible and we think it is great the [Hawaii] DOT is so innovative.”

To listen to more of this podcast episode, click here.

AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast: Ohio DOT’s Historic Bridge Plan

The newest episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast focuses on the historic bridge inventory, evaluation, and preservation plan put together by the Ohio Department of Transportation and how other state DOTs can implement similar efforts based on that plan.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

The ETAP podcast – a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

In this episode, Erica Schneider – assistant environmental administrator for Ohio DOT – and Tom Barrett, Ohio DOT’s historic bridge program manager and state byways coordinator, explain the importance of preserving, relocating, or restoring historic bridges as they attract tourists, create economic opportunities, and offer a way to strengthen a sense of community for towns and cities statewide.

[Editor’s note: For an example of how bridges and byways provide tourist opportunists and historic connections, check out the Ohio DOT video below.]

Ohio is home to more than 500 national registered-listed and historic bridges, constructed with a vast array of materials, including iron, steel, stone, concrete, and wood.

Recently, Ohio DOT completed a historic bridge inventory update for all 9,086 bridges built between 1961 and 197, with seven determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and one considered an early example of environmentally sensitive structural design.

To listen to this podcast, click here.

Kansas Issues Local Communities $11M in Cost Sharing Funds

Governor Laura Kelly (D) and Calvin Reed, acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, recently announced more than $11 million will be awarded to 14 local transportation construction projects statewide through the agency’s “Cost Share Program” for spring 2023.

[Above photo by the Kansas DOT]

The Kansas DOT Cost Share Program – established in 2019 as part of the 10-year Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program or IKE – is designed to help rural and urban areas alike advance local transportation projects to improve safety, support job retention and growth, relieve congestion, and improve access and mobility.

To date, Kansas DOT said its Cost Share Program has resulted in the investment of more than $125 million in state funding in almost 150 projects statewide, with nearly an additional $100 million in matching local funds.

“With these projects, my administration is making investments that address short term challenges to bring long-term solutions to communities,” the governor noted in a statement. “The Cost Share program has been a success because of the partnerships we’ve built with local governments to make financial commitments alongside us.”

[Editor’s note: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently hosted a knowledge session at its 2023 Spring Meeting in Seattle that delved into ways transportation agencies can get the most out of the discretionary grant programs funded by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021 – especially in terms of helping fund local infrastructure projects.]

Gov. Kelly unveiled this latest disbursement of Cost Share Program funds at a press event in the City of Gardner, which is getting state fiscal support for its South Center Trail. This particular round of Cost Share Program funding is supporting safer and improved access to schools, health care, recreational amenities, and housing.

“We rely on local leaders to bring us their best ideas for projects that, with a little help, can make a significant difference in a community,” noted Kansas DOT’s Reed. “Communities come to the table with a solid project plan, the support of local business and community members, and matching funds in place. State dollars help get the projects to the finish line.”

State departments of transportation across the country provide funding to local transportation projects via a variety of programs – many aimed at boosting active transportation opportunities.

For example, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, in partnership with the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization or SJTPO, recently awarded $5.2 million to six local infrastructure projects under the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside or “TA Set-Aside” program. 

“As part of our ‘Commitment to Communities,’ we work with the three metropolitan planning organizations to provide federal funding to counties and municipalities for local transportation projects that improve safety and strengthen the cultural, aesthetic, and environmental aspects of our transportation system,” noted New Jersey DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “[Those] grants will fund projects to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in six South Jersey communities without having to impact local property taxes.”

Meanwhile, in April, the Illinois Department of Transportation recently awarded $127.9 million through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program or ITEP to support 72 local mobility projects statewide.

“The Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program is … designed to support alternate modes of transportation, to preserve visual and cultural resources, and improve quality of life,” explained Governor Jay “J.B.” Pritzker (D).

Those 72 local mobility projects selected include biking and walking paths, trails, streetscape beautification and other projects designed to encourage safe travel across the various modes of transportation at the local level.

“The ITEP gives our local partners the resources they need to improve quality of life for their communities and strengthen the state’s overall transportation system,” added Illinois DOT Secretary Omer Osman. “We’re putting dollars to work in the communities that need them most, investing in infrastructure and increasing travel options to make Illinois a safer and more enjoyable place to work, build a business and raise a family.”

NCDOT Highway Right-of-Ways Win Wildflower Awards

Each year, awards sponsored by The Garden Club of North Carolina are given to the best-looking flower beds along highways in every region of the state – awards that recognize the efforts of North Carolina Department of Transportation staff who carry out the agency’s wildflower program, which for 37 years has enhanced the overall appearance and environmental quality of North Carolina’s highways.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

The 2022 Wildflower Awards were presented to NCDOT teams during the April Board of Transportation meeting by NCDOT Roadside Environmental Engineer David Harris. And a Flickr album with photos of the winners is available here.  

“Our wildflower beds wouldn’t be successful without the hard work put in by our staff. Their commitment to creating detailed flower beds for everyone to enjoy deserves every recognition,” he explained in a statement. “The Wildflower Program is a long-lasting initiative, and we can’t wait to see the beautiful blooms that are due to grow in 2023.”

State DOTs across the country are not only involved in a variety of wildflower- and pollinator-support efforts, many also use special teams to help preserve native animals and plants during infrastructure projects, which also in some cases using natural vegetation to aid in safety projects, such as the construction of snow fences.

On the pollination side, in October 2021 the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts or GACD began installing 15 pollinator habitat sites in designated locations as part of a joint effort to educate state residents about the important role “pollinators” such as bees, butterflies, and other insects play in Georgia’s agricultural sector.

“This partnership provides Georgia DOT with the unique opportunity to create a safe and beautiful place for families and travelers to get up close and personal with the wildflowers and grasses [to] learn about how they impact the world around us,” explained Felicity Davis, a landscape architect manager with the Georgia DOT.

“We carefully considered the locations for these gardens and with pedestrian safety in mind, we determined the best option would be at rest areas and Welcome Centers across the state,” she said.

Meanwhile, in March 2022, the Minnesota Department of Transportation began “rejuvenating” seven so-called “living snow fences” in southwest Minnesota as part of a month-long effort to ensure the 20-year-old plantings can survive for another two decades. The agency noted that a “living snow fence” is comprised of trees, shrubs, native grasses, and/or wildflowers to trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a bridge or roadway.

“A living snow fence is more than landscaping and highway beautification, it serves a purpose,” explained Dan Gullickson, Minnesota DOT’s blowing snow control shared services program supervisor. “We use nature to control blowing snow and rejuvenating these living snow fence sites will safeguard the health and vitality of the plantings.”

Where native plant preservation is concerned, the Arizona Department of Transportation uses “biomonitor” teams from Northern Arizona University or NAU to help the agency’s work crews find and relocate endangered species – including snakes, birds and fish – from construction sites.

Specifically, the biomonitor teams train construction workers and other involved in transportation projects to identify any endangered species and what to do if they come across one. The teams also monitor construction activity and help safely remove any endangered species out of harm’s way.

NCDOT ‘Bump-Outs’ Help Prevent Street Flooding

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is managing an innovative drainage project that captures storm-water runoff while addressing chronic flooding in a historic, coastal neighborhood.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

Cedar Street in Beaufort, NC, carries two lanes of traffic and off-street parking through a mix of residential and small businesses in this 310-year-old town. Because Beaufort is on the coast, untreated stormwater runoff easily flows into the estuary as the town’s current drainage system can’t hold up to flooding from hurricanes, tropical storms, or even heavy rain.

There isn’t enough room for a larger drainage system, so NCDOT turned to what are called “bio-retention cells” – concrete borders or “bump-outs” along the street that will filter stormwater before it enters the estuary. Those “bump-outs” funnel water to 14 collection areas that resemble planter boxes, where the water will be filtered before it enters a newly rebuilt storm-water main along Cedar Street.

To facilitate drainage, the town of Beaufort will use permeable pavement to rebuild the parking lanes on the street. The pavement should reduce runoff and filter pollutants from getting into the estuary.

NCDOT has used bump-outs before, but not in an urban setting, noted Andrew Barksdale, an agency spokesman. Because of the compact development along the street, the bump-outs seemed like a good application.

Photo courtesy of NCDOT

“The existing infrastructure and development along this road presented a challenge with building a traditional drainage system,” NCDOT engineer Jeff Cabaniss said in a statement. “This alternative system will be better for the environment and also contribute to the beautification of this historic town and improve its water quality.”

Cedar Street was a major thoroughfare before a high-rise bridge just north of the small town claimed the U.S. 70 designation and most of the traffic, but Beaufort still attracts tourists. Locals are proud of the area’s colonial history and are especially happy that ownership of Cedar Street will pass to the town when the project is completed.

“This project is a more economically friendly approach, which helps the town because we have been trying to clean up the estuary,” said Rachel Johnson, a public information officer for Beaufort. “When it’s done, this will be a town-owned project.”

Construction of the bio-retention cells is estimated at $925,000, with the resurfacing about $400,000, NCDOT’s Barksdale noted. The town of Beaufort is using state grant money to rebuild the parking lanes and expects to complete construction on this project by summer.

This is but one of several NCDOT flood-control initiatives occurring statewide.

For example, in May 2022, NCDOT activated a new flood-warning system that relies on a network of 400 river and stream gauges to help analyze, map, and communicate in real-time any flood risks to roads, bridges, and culverts.

That critical information goes to NCDOT maintenance staff responding to flooded roads and washed-out culverts yet also benefits local emergency management officials and the public accessing the department’s website for timely weather-related closures. “This state-of-the-art warning system our department has created will help us be better prepared for the next major storm,” explained Eric Boyette, NCDOT secretary, in a statement at the time. “Even though we’ve had some quiet hurricane seasons recently, we cannot let our guard down.”

ETAP Podcast: The I-24 Motion Test Bed

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Lee Smith – interim traffic operations division director at the Tennessee Department of Transportation – and Professor Dan Work from Vanderbilt University discuss the I-24 Motion test bed.

[Above image via the Tennessee DOT]

Formally known as the I-24 Mobility Technology Interstate Observation Network, the “test bed” encompasses a six-mile stretch of I-24 in the Nashville-Davidson County Metropolitan equipped with over 300 ultra-high definition cameras. The images from those cameras are then converted into a “digital model” to demonstrate the behavior of every vehicle using the roadway.

[Editor’s note: This test bed is part of the larger I-24 SMART Corridor project directed by Tennessee DOT, which seeks to integrate freeway and arterial roadway elements, along with physical, technological, and operational improvements, to provide drivers accurate, real-time information for actively managing traffic volumes. The agency noted in April 2022 that it completed Phase 1 of the I-24 SMART Corridor project in December 2021 and expects to wrap up Phase 2 by the spring of 2023.]

Tennessee DOT noted the I-24 Motion test bed’s “digital model” is formed anonymously via artificial intelligence or AI trajectory algorithms developed by Vanderbilt University. That vehicle trajectory data allows traffic researchers to uncover new insights into how traffic flow influences individual vehicle behavior – particularly critical due to the increasing automation capability of individual vehicles.

By unlocking a new understanding of how autonomous vehicles influence traffic, vehicle and infrastructure design can be optimized to reduce traffic concerns in the future to improve safety, air quality, and fuel efficiency, Smith and Professor Work noted.

To listen to this episode of the ETAP Podcast, click here.

New York Governor Signs ‘Complete Streets’ Package

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) (above) recently signed a legislative package so the New York Department of Transportation can boost support for municipal “Complete Streets” projects.

[Above photo by the New York Governor’s Office]

A “Complete Street” is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

New York’s legislation increases the state share of funding for municipalities incorporating Complete Street features. Under the new legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of complete street projects will increase to 87.5 percent, which will help municipalities to implement these street designs.

“Whether you’re on the sidewalk, in the bike lane or riding the bus, you deserve a high-quality trip that gets you safely to your destination,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement.“Transportation is all about connections: bringing people closer to their jobs, their homes, and the people they love. I’m proud to sign two new laws that will make our streets safer and our communities more connected.”

There is a growing push at both the federal and state level to integrate complete street policies in surface transportation strategies across the country.

In March 2022, the Federal Highway Administration sent a report to Congress detailing the agency’s commitment to “advance widespread implementation of the Complete Streets design model” to help improve safety and accessibility for all users.

That report – entitled “Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model: A Report to Congress on Opportunities and Challenges” – identifies what FHWA calls “five overarching opportunity areas” that will guide the agency as it moves ahead with efforts to increase “Complete Streets.”

Many state departments of transportation have already adopted “Complete Streets” programs on their own, as noted in this report compiled by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

For example, in December 2021, the California Department of Transportation unveiled a new “Complete Streets” policy for all new transportation projects it funds or oversees in order to provide “safe and accessible options” for people walking, biking, and taking transit.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation put in place what it called a wide-ranging “Complete Streets” policy for the state-owned highway system in February 2021.

Meanwhile, on January 3, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded $6.65 million to 15 local communities as part of round two of the fiscal year 2023 Complete Streets grants. This is the 14th overall grant round from MassDOT’s Complete Streets program; funds from which municipalities use to support local multimodal infrastructure projects that improve travel for bicyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, and people using other forms of transportation. “MassDOT is pleased to continue to work with municipal leaders to encourage the installation of infrastructure to help make for ‘Complete Streets’ everywhere,” noted MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler in a statement. “We want everyone in every city and town in the Commonwealth to have sidewalks, crosswalks, and other features which make it easy and safe to get to where they want to go.”