Starting this year, under a provision in the latest version of the federal law authorizing the flow of transportation dollars to states and localities in the region, the Transportation Planning Board will decide what projects receive a portion of funding intended for "alternatives to traditional highway construction."
The law makes the funding available directly to states under a new program known as Transportation Alternatives, which combines three programs that existed under the previous version of the law to fund things like bicycle lanes, sidewalks, improved non-driver access to public transportation, recreational trails, and improvements that make it safer for schoolchildren to walk to and from school.
The law requires states to spend half of the money they receive under the new program in the metropolitan areas in their states. In those metropolitan areas with populations of more than 200,000 people, the law requires the federally-designated metropolitan planning organization, or MPO, to decide how that money is spent.
As the MPO for the Washington region, the TPB will be responsible for carrying out a competitive selection process to choose those projects that will receive the portion of funding that Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia must spend in the metropolitan area. Even though the District falls completely within the metropolitan area, it will still decide how half of the money it receives will be spent, leaving to the TPB decisions over the remaining half.
In all, the TPB will oversee the selection of nearly $8.4 million worth of projects through 2014 -- $3.3 million in Maryland and $2.3 million in the District for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and $2.8 million in Virginia for fiscal year 2014 only.
On March 1, the TPB issued its official call for projects for the Transportation Alternatives Program, inviting local governments, transit operators, natural resource and public land agencies, school districts, and other eligible recipients to apply for funding.
Applicants in Maryland will be able to seek funding through both the regional program and from the portion of funds available for projects anywhere in the state, while those in Virginia and the District of Columbia will, for now, only be able to apply for funding through the regional program. Virginia will allocate its "statewide" money through a separate process, while the District is still working to determine how or when it will distribute its "statewide" dollars.
After the mid-May deadline for applications, the TPB will convene a selection panel made up of planning and engineering experts to review applications and select projects. Depending on the types of project proposals it receives, the TPB may also invite environmental and historic preservation experts as well as representatives of organizations that promote mobility for persons with disabilities to provide additional input into the process.
In its deliberations, the panel will use regional selection criteria to evaluate and recommend projects for TPB approval. The regional criteria will provide an opportunity for the TPB to select projects that promote regional goals -- like increasing transportation options for non-drivers, enhancing walkability and accessibility within activity centers, and promoting accessibility for people with disabilities -- that might not have otherwise received funding under earlier funding processes.
Selecting projects under the new federal program will complement existing planning activities at the TPB, especially the Transportation/Land-Use Connections Program, which helps local jurisdictions identify key improvements needed to make transportation and development patterns in the region support one another more effectively. Among other things, the Transportation Alternatives Program will provide an opportunity to fund just the kind of improvements recommended by studies carried out as part of the TLC Program.
In addition to the new Transportation Alternatives Program, MAP-21 makes a number of other changes that will affect the TPB and its planning activities. Currently, the TPB is ironing out the final details of how it will administer the new Enhanced Mobility program, which replaces two previous programs that aimed to improve mobility for older adults and people with disabilities.
The TPB has also started to explore how it will comply with new performance-based planning and programming requirements, which will require the TPB to work with other transportation agencies in the region to set performance targets for the region's transportation system and to monitor the region's progress toward achieving new national transportation goals.
The new federal Transportation Alternatives Program, one of several changes under the latest transportation authorization known as MAP-21, will make the TPB responsible for selecting projects to receive a portion of funds intended for "alternatives to traditional highway construction." The change presents a new opportunity for the TPB to promote regional goals through local transportation improvements that might not have otherwise received funding under earlier funding processes.
- "Transportation Alternatives Program for the National Capital Region" Website: www.mwcog.org/tap