Guidance is Out – What Does it Mean for Safe Routes to School?

The Federal Highway Administration released guidance on the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) (2/2/22) and the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) (3/30/22) and held a webinar on the Transportation Alternatives Program guidance (6/2/22). To brief our networks on the guidance, Safe Routes Partnership and the League of American Bicyclists co-hosted a webinar on May 12, 2022, on the HSIP and TAP guidance. You can watch the recording or peruse the slides. There is a ton of information in the guidance, so in this blog post, we summarize highlights specifically for Safe Routes to School practitioners and professionals.

Safe Routes to School Funding

Safe Routes to School is broadly eligible across the core formula funding programs, including the Surface Transportation Block Grant, Congestion Mitigation Air Quality, Highway Safety Improvement Program, and Transportation Alternatives Program, as well as others.

The Highway Safety Improvement Program proactively affirms that all Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects can be funded with HSIP funds, and it states that up to ten percent of HSIP funds can be used on “specified safety projects”, which include all Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure activities, including staffing.

Safe Routes to School Coordinators

Both TAP and HSIP guidance proactively state that funds can be used to pay for Safe Routes to School coordinators. Within TAP, competitive funds can be used to pay for local Safe Routes to School coordinators. Statewide Safe Routes to School coordinators can be funded using a states’ “5% for Improving Accessibility and Efficiency” (aka state technical assistance). States do not need pre-approval to use these 5% of funds to staff a statewide Safe Routes to School coordinator, and this position can be housed within a DOT or contracted out to another government agency, a nonprofit organization, or a private sector entity. Within HSIP, up to 10 percent of funds can be used for “specified safety projects”, including Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure programs, which includes staffing.

State Apportionments and National Clearinghouse

As we explained in an earlier blog post, and is confirmed in the guidance, states will not be receiving apportionments specifically for Safe Routes to School. Because there is no dedicated funding specifically for Safe Routes to School, provisions like the National Clearinghouse are not enforceable.

Transfers

Before BIL, states could transfer up to 50 percent of funds out of the program to other uses. The BIL Transportation Alternatives guidance tells states that they must “demonstrate genuine efforts to establish a robust TA Set-Aside program before FHWA will authorize a transfer”. The language in the BIL defines “genuine efforts” as the state running a competition for all funds, offering and providing technical assistance to any potential applicant, demonstrate that all suitable projects received funding before they may transfer funds out of the program. The guidance also states that FHWA will not authorize transfers this year (FY22) in order to give states time to set up Transportation Alternatives Programs that comply with the new law.

If states do transfer funds, they are limited to the 41 percent that they have jurisdiction over.

The new guidance on transfers does not apply to inter-agency transfers of TAP funds. There are no limitations or restrictions on DOTs transferring to other agencies (for example: FTA, BLM, NPS) to support the implementation of TAP projects.

Eligible Projects

All projects previously eligible for Transportation Alternatives Program continue to be eligible. A notable expansion for Safe Routes to School is that Safe Routes to School projects may now benefit high schools in addition to K-8 schools. Other new and expanded eligibilities include: planning projects and planning components of projects, bike share and shared micromobility infrastructure (but not operating expenses), and within HSIP, there are several newly defined project eligibilities that support safety for Vulnerable Road Users.

Eligible Entities

All entities previously eligible to apply for and receive Transportation Alternatives Program funds continue to be eligible. The BIL expanded what types of entities are eligible, and now metropolitan planning organizations serving urbanized areas under 200,000 people are eligible to apply for funds. All nonprofit organizations are now eligible to apply; previously it was only nonprofits that administered local transportation safety projects, and now the state is eligible to receive funds if requested by another eligible entity. Notably, on the guidance webinar, FHWA said that while some states had narrower lists of eligible entities permitted to apply for TAP (for example: some states said no nonprofits may apply), moving forward, DOTs are not allowed to deem legally eligible entities ineligible.

State Technical Assistance

As we shared in our recap of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there is a new provision allowing states to use up to five percent of their Transportation Alternatives funds to provide technical assistance to help entities apply for TAP funds and deliver projects. The guidance takes a very broad interpretation of what it means to provide technical assistance, and includes:

  • Administering a statewide competitive program
    • Assisting applicants to help them successfully apply
    • Supporting recipients with project implementation, including NEPA review
    • Planning, design, permitting process, and project management

 Guidance states that this can be achieved through staffing within a DOT (including for a Safe Routes to School coordinator) or contracted out with other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or to private sector entities. State DOTs do not need prior approval on how to spend these funds.

 Key Actions for Advocates and Implementers

  • Practitioners and advocates: Use your favorite search engine Transportation Alternatives + state or look at your state DOT’s Transportation Alternatives webpage to see when the next TAP competition is. Provided that there are applications for the funds, DOTs may not transfer money out of TAP, so apply for funds and widely promote the funding opportunity to communities and partners that may be interested in applying!
  • Implementers: re-prioritize the health, safety, and mobility of the youngest residents of your state by staffing a statewide Safe Routes to School coordinator. Pay for the position using the state’s 5% for improving accessibility and efficiency, and either staff the position in-house within the DOT or contract it out to another government agency, nonprofit organization, or private sector entity.

With guidance released, some state DOTs and MPOs are moving quickly to update processes and run competitions for Transportation Alternatives. As states roll out changes in response to the law, we’re seeing both wonderful innovations as well as some dubious practices out of state DOTs. If you have questions about how your state is implementing the law or want to share an exciting new practice, please let us know at info@saferoutespartnership.org.