Today, the US Department of Transportation released its interim guidance, which provides states with additional information on how to implement the new transportation bill, MAP-21. Overall the guidance should be helpful to states and MPOs as they implement the bill and there is some good news in the guidance. However, there is one major disappointment in the guidance that is of particular concern for the Safe Routes Partnership and for the Safe Routes to School movement. (Note: since this blog's posting, the USDOT has released the final guidance -- read more about it here.)
Match required for MAP-21 Safe Routes to School Projects
The federal Safe Routes to School program has traditionally been one of the rare transportation programs where 100 percent of a project’s costs can be paid by federal funds, without a local match. This has allowed low-income communities, small towns with low tax bases and cash-strapped schools to apply for and implement Safe Routes to School initiatives. These are the very communities where children face the greatest safety risks when walking and bicycling.
Unfortunately, the guidance indicates that due to its consolidation with Transportation Alternatives, that Safe Routes to School projects will now fall under the same match requirements as most other transportation projects—80 percent federal funding with a 20 percent local match.
The Safe Routes Partnership has worked hard since the passage of MAP-21 to fight to retain the 100 percent federal funding for Safe Routes to School projects, and are very disappointed that the guidance requires the 20 percent local match. We will continue to pursue a legislative or administrative remedy on this issue, and will also be working on materials to help local Safe Routes to School advocates understand their options for providing matching funds, including in-kind services and materials that could reduce the match contribution. We will also continue to work with the US Department of Transportation on the next iteration of guidance on Transportation Alternatives, as there are other issues remaining to be resolved.
SAFETEA-LU Safe Routes to School Project are Still 100 Percent Funded
In the meantime, we urge state Departments of Transportation to prioritize any remaining Safe Routes to School funding that does not require a match for use by low-income schools and communities. We also encourage state Departments of Transportation to provide clear direction to communities applying for Transportation Alternatives funding for Safe Routes to School projects about how they can utilize in-kind staffing and services to make up the project match.
Safe Routes to School Coordinators Eligible under MAP-21 TAP
On the positive side, state Safe Routes to School coordinators can be paid from the Transportation Alternatives funds. They are also eligible to be paid from remaining SAFETEA-LU Safe Routes to School funds or out of state’s Surface Transportation Program allocation. We urge states DOTs to retain their Safe Routes to School coordinators given their deep expertise in administering smaller projects like these, and to use one of these funding options to pay their salaries.
The DOT is committed to releasing best practices for both DOTs and MPOs in creating grant processes for their Transportation Alternatives Program, and the Safe Routes Partnership will be working with DOT to prioritize transportation uses, safety and equity in for states and regions choosing TAP projects.
Finally, many states have already taken action to save their Safe Routes to School program and its funding. Thank you.
Please stay tuned for more information on our continuing efforts related to the Safe Routes to School match and the next set of guidance (what was released today was only interim guidance). Please also see the statements on the guidance from our partners, America Bikes and the League of American Bicyclists.