What’s Next on MAP-21 at the Federal Level?

Margo PedrosoI’ve written a lot in the past few months about implementation of the federal MAP-21 transportation law at the state level, but there are still many issues and processes remaining at the federal level. So this month, I thought I’d touch on a few of them.

More guidance. As you may recall, guidance is issued by the US Department of Transportation to provide more detail to states on how they can implement MAP-21. In October, USDOT released interim guidance which answered some fundamental questions, allowing states to move forward. For example:

  • As the interim guidance ruled that state Safe Routes to School coordinators could be paid for out of Transportation Alternatives funds, many states, including New Jersey and Michigan, have since declared they will retain their coordinators. The interim guidance also ruled that Safe Routes to School projects will now be subject to a 20 percent match, provided through state or local dollars. Ohio has already stepped up to use some of its tolling revenue to pay the required match for communities without the resources to provide the match with local dollars. States interested in doing similarly can use tolling revenue, state gas tax funds or any legislature-approved state funds for Safe Routes to School.

However, final guidance is expected in January or February, with more details on how states can implement MAP-21. One aspect of Transportation Alternatives we are watching is the “flexibility of excess reserved funding” clause. This clause allows states that have not spent their Transportation Alternatives funds the ability to use it for other transportation projects. This provision could reward states for delaying applications and the obligation of funds controlled by the metropolitan planning organizations. We are continuing to talk with USDOT about this and other measures that we hope will be addressed in the final guidance. USDOT will also be issuing best practices for Transportation Alternatives, although that will be separate from final guidance.

Performance measures. While USDOT has another year before it is required to set transportation performance measures (and then states have another year after that to set their targets), work has begun at the federal level to assess different options. We joined with a number of other national transportation organizations to advocate for performance measures that are supportive of all modes of transportation. This is important to ensure that Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking can compete in all transportation funding programs, not just Transportation Alternatives.

Rules and regulations. USDOT has many rules and regulations it is required to issue per MAP-21. One particularly relevant to Safe Routes to School is a requirement that USDOT offer a regulation on types of projects that can be “categorically excluded” from the full environmental planning process required by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). This regulation should be issued in December, and will potentially help some Safe Routes to School projects move a bit more quickly through the planning and construction process. USDOT is also supposed to identify best practices to expedite projects, but that initiative does not have a required timeframe.

While those are the key focuses for USDOT, Congress also has a role to play. You’ve heard about the “fiscal cliff” discussions; there is hope (although slim) that any fiscal cliff resolution might also include a long-term funding solution for transportation. If that doesn’t happen, it will be a major issue for the next Congress, which convenes in January, to address by the time MAP-21 expires in September 2014. This task will fall to Rep. Shuster (R-PA), the new chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; Rep. Rahall (D-WV), the lead Democrat on that Committee; Sen. Boxer (D-CA), who retains the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and Sen. Vitter (R-LA), who will be taking over as the lead Senate Republican from Sen. Inhofe (R-OK).

This may all seem very process-focused, but all of these decisions affect your state’s decisions on Safe Routes to School and the process those projects go through before sidewalks can be built and education programs started. So, we hope that you will continue to stay tuned as we work on implementation issues.