While Democrats continue to iron out negotiations on Build Back Better, the partisan human-infrastructure bill, Congress passed another short-term extension for surface transportation on October 28th. This extension runs through December 3, 2021. As a reminder, these short-term extensions keep funding levels and policy unchanged. There is support for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in August and combines surface transportation reauthorization with elements of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
We hosted a webinar on October 14, 2021 explaining what is in these bills for Safe Routes to School, walking, and bicycling and what is going on with the connection between these two bills. If you missed it or want to re-visit the recording or slidedeck, you can find both here.
As we eagerly await the passage of these two bills, there are several actions advocates, agency staff, and others can take to prepare for when these bills become law:
For Safe Routes to School and safety advocates: Encourage your state department of transportation to use Highway Safety Improvement Program funds as a match for projects funded through the Transportation Alternatives Program. This bill will make HSIP funds eligible to be used as a match for TAP projects that promote safety. That means that if a state DOT chooses to use HSIP funds as a match, a project can be done entirely with federal funds – no local match required!
For state departments of transportation: Eligibility for Transportation Alternatives program is not changing, so the same types of projects are still eligible, and now there will be significantly more funding available. We expect it will take the Federal Highway Administration several months to issue guidance on the program. Because eligibility for projects is unchanged, we encourage you to keep administering the program while guidance is under development.
For Safe Routes to School advocates, this bill brings the Safe Routes to School program into current law. While it does not apportion funding specifically to the program, it conveys that Congress cares about this program and wants it to continue. Use this as an opportunity to talk with your state DOT, state legislators, metropolitan planning organizations, and other decisionmakers about the value and importance of Safe Routes to School in your state or community. Speak with state DOT decisionmakers about how they can reflect congressional support of the Safe Routes to School program in the way they administer the Transportation Alternatives program.
For anyone interested in voicing their support for the Safe Routes to School program and the Transportation Alternatives Program: Contact your House member and share that you support the Safe Routes to School program and the Transportation Alternatives Program included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bill has already passed the Senate, so if you want to contact your member of Congress, contact your House representative.
For state DOTs, Safe Routes to School, walking, and biking advocates: Learn how state DOTs are currently defining “high need” communities and prioritizing “high need” communities in project selection. To get started, review our report on State Funding for Walking, Bicycling, and Safe Routes to School Appendix A, which details how states are currently doing this. Another report to reference is Harvard School of Public Health research on Practices that Promote Access to Safe Routes to School Programs in Vulnerable Communities.