As 2022 chugs along, so does the rollout of new funding and programs created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Recently, we highlighted the Safe Streets and Roads for All Program, Transportation Alternatives Program, the National Roadway Safety Strategy, and more. This month, we’ll cover the new Reconnecting Communities program and re-cap the active transportation components of the reconciliation bill that just passed the Senate.
First up: Reconnecting Communities, a $1 billion over five years pilot program created in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law intended to “repair the harm caused by some of the infrastructure choices of the past”, as Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg explains in this one-minute video on the program. (New to the history of contemporary transportation inequities? Here’s a short video and story map on the policy and funding decisions that created the unjust transportation system we have today.)
Like Safe Streets and Roads for All, Reconnecting Communities is a discretionary grant program, which means USDOT holds a competition, and applicants from all across the country compete for funds. This year, USDOT is competing out $195 million to restore community connectivity in places that were cut off by transportation infrastructure. Of that total, $50 million is allocated for planning grants to assess potential improvements, and $145 million is dedicated to capital construction, making the physical changes to an eligible facility.
If you live or work in a community where mobility is hindered by a human-imposed component of transportation infrastructure, like a highway, rail lines, or viaducts rather than a naturally-occurring barrier, like a river, consider how your community might come together to reimagine bridging that divide, and think about applying for Reconnecting Communities. Improved mobility for people walking and wheeling can absolutely be part of Reconnecting Communities applications, but the focus must be on rectifying past harms of transportation investments. Applications are due October 15, 2022.
On the reconciliation front, you may remember a year ago when the House and Senate were debating the transportation infrastructure law, and at the time, it was paired with another bill: Build Back Better, a social infrastructure bill. In the fall of 2021, those bills were decoupled; the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act became law, and Build Back Better seemed doomed. Fast forward to almost a year to the date after the Senate passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: on August 7, 2022, the Senate passed the 2022 version of Build Back Better, now known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, focused on climate, healthcare, and tax reform. Note: this still needs to pass the House (a vote is expected later this week) and go to the President’s desk before it becomes law.
There is a lot to be excited about in the Inflation Reduction Act, but there are two things we’ve been following and supporting that may be of particular interest to active transportation advocates:
Neighborhood Access and Equity Program
One way to think about this new program is as Reconnecting Communities Plus. With $3 billion through FY26, this program looks holistically at impediments to mobility in communities and offers funding to make improvements. Whereas Reconnecting Communities focuses specifically on communities divided by past transportation infrastructure, this program offers funding to communities focused on improving access and mobility beyond remedying specific divisions caused by past transportation investments. The new Neighborhood Access and Equity Program would also look at how mobility is impeded by externalities of transportation investments like poor air quality and making the transportation planning process more inclusive of the voices of everyday Americans. If enacted into law, this program will fund:
- Improving walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access
- Mitigating or remediate negative impacts resulting from transportation facilities
- Planning and capacity building in disadvantaged or underserved communities
Of the $3 billion for the program, there is $1.2 billion set aside for projects in disadvantaged communities. We will be sure to let you know when USDOT gets this program up and running!
Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants
The Inflation Reduction Act includes $2.8 billion for grants benefitting disadvantaged communities that improve air quality (outdoor and indoor), mitigate climate and health risks from heat, focus on climate resiliency and adaptation, and engage disadvantaged communities in public processes around climate and environmental justice. Recipients will be partnerships between local governments, Indian tribes, or higher education institutions and community-based organizations. As always, we will share out more info when we have it!
We know there is a lot going on in this space, so please send your federal policy questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.