The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about how States are Using TAP

It's the all-important end of the federal fiscal year, so we have a lot to report on for how states are handling their Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding.  We always see a lot of activity in the last quarter of a fiscal year, but this year we saw more than usual because states are preparing for an impending rescission. 

As we mentioned last month, Congress will be taking back $7.6 billion in unspent transportation funds in July 2020, based on unobligated balances as of September 30, 2019.  Most states obligated a lot of funds to try and minimize their future rescission.  (Obligation means the state DOT committed funding to a local TAP project.)  We should know in the next few weeks how much states will lose from TAP due to the rescission (unless Congress acts before July to eliminate it), so stay tuned.

Returning to the results from our quarterly state of the states assessment, we’ve got good, bad, and ugly news.

On the good news side, most states took their responsibilities seriously and obligated as much TAP funding as they could, looking to protect it as much as possible from the rescission.  A total of $342 million in funding was obligated, which is one of the largest amounts we’ve seen.  Thirty-eight states have an obligation rate of 60 percent or better. 

On the bad news, we also saw a high amount of funds transferred away from TAP:  14 states transferred a total of $118 million to other transportation programs. This is another method states use to protect the funds from rescissions; by transferring them to another funding program, they are then likely obligating road, bridge, and other safety projects with the funding.  However, this means a loss in funds for biking and walking.

And now for the ugly news: 7 states (AZ, HI, NH, ND, SC, WI, WY) let a total of $19.4 million in TAP funding lapse.  Funding only lapses when a state fails to obligate it within four years.  We know that there are biking and walking priorities in these states, so we are always unhappy when a state fails to meet its basic responsibilities for the TAP program and just lets funds go unused.

So as not to end on a bad note – it’s important to note that the bad news is far outweighed by the good news.  Since 2013, all of the states have obligated $3.1 billion for biking, walking, and Safe Routes projects – which translates to thousands of projects all around the country to improve safety, health, and accessibility.