Five+ Federal Infrastructure Programs Every Planner Should Know
Editor's Note: This blog post is updated regularly as new programs and funding opportunities become available to community planners.
The passage of the landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act saw the largest direct investment in community planning in a century — and marked the culmination of APA's years-long effort to reform and renew the nation's current surface transportation law. As the legislation enters its second year, federal agencies are continuing to release critical program guidance and alert communities to new opportunities to apply for funding.
Beyond a full five-year transportation reauthorization, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), as the new law is more commonly known, includes support for new and expanded programs in four key areas:
- Climate change and resilience
- Transit, active transportation, and pedestrian safety
- Regional planning
- Planning for emerging needs and technologies
Planners will play an integral leadership role in helping communities and regions successfully access available federal funds through these competitive programs. Planners are especially critical given the tremendous growth in new competitive programs. For additional guidance, the DOT Navigator from the U.S. Department of Transportation is a new resource to help communities understand applying, planning, and delivering on projects.
Here are five+ federal funding opportunities created by BIL — and available to planners now — that every community planner should know about.
Climate and Resilience Planning Programs
Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT)
This new, first-of-its-kind federal program aims to help communities better prepare their transportation infrastructure for a rapidly changing climate. With both formula and competitive funding, the program includes $140 million for planning.
Importantly, communities can use PROTECT to improve the resilience of transportation networks serving underrepresented communities. In 2022, DOT released initial formula funding. The launch of PROTECT competitive grants, including additional guidance on criteria and eligibilities, is now available.
Carbon Reduction Program
The new program aims to help states and localities create transportation emission reduction strategies and targets, providing them $6.4 billion in formula funding over five years. With 65 percent of funding suballocated to regions and localities, CRP gives metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) authority to allocate funding within regions.
CRP supports a wide range of projects including public transportation projects, micro-mobility and electric bikes, and charging infrastructure.
A separate $250 million Metropolitan Congestion Relief program was established by BIL. Cities and metro regions will be able to apply directly for this funding. DOT has yet to release program guidance but is expected to so later in 2023.
Inflation Reduction Act Programs
In addition to the climate funding established under BIL, the Inflation Reduction Act also created new climate and infrastructure-related opportunities. The bill directs $3 billion in new funding to the Environmental Protection Agency for Environmental Justice grants. The first round of $70 million funding for local governments closed in April 2023.
EPA is also in the process of developing a major $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction grant program funded by the IRA. Early guidance from the Biden Administration indicates that states, localities, and Tribes will have access to $7 billion in support for projects through a Zero-Emissions Technology Fund Competition. We expect the application window to open in summer 2023.
Additional IRA funds will support a $1.5 billion urban forestry program administered by the U.S. Forest Service and $2.6 billion at NOAA for coastal community resilience. Details on these programs are expected in the first half of 2023.
Biking, Walking, Transit, and Safety Planning Programs
The RAISE program is the successor to TIGER and BUILD multimodal discretionary grants. BIL authorized the program for the first time and incorporated separate planning grants into the program. Last year, DOT issued program guidance that placed new emphasis on climate, equity, and housing impacts. 2022 RAISE grants were announced in December 2022.
RAISE Map Tools for Areas of Persistent Poverty
Reconnecting Communities, Thriving Communities, and Neighborhood Access and Equity
This new equity-focused program aims to restore community connectivity by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating highways or other transportation facilities that create barriers to community connectivity, including to mobility, access, or economic development. The $1 billion authorized over five years through BIL includes $50 million for planning grants and $148 million for capital construction grants in fiscal year 2023.
The application period for 2022 Reconnecting Communities planning and capital grants closed in October 2022. A second round of grants is expected to launch in late Spring 2023. This second round of grants will be supplemented by additional funding provided through the $3 Billion Neighborhood Access and Equity Program created in the Inflation Reduction Act. Neighborhood Access grants are expected to focus on improving a variety of transportation and transit options, as well as street design and safety, for underserved communities.
Technical assistance is a key component of this program and will provide hands-on planning support to economically disadvantaged communities with the greatest need. The technical assistance program — formally known as Thriving Communities — is a joint U.S. Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Transportation effort. Thriving Communities offers two years of deep-dive assistance to selected communities to help them plan and develop a pipeline of comprehensive transportation, housing, and community development revitalization activities. Interested applicants were asked to submit a letter of interest together with community partners in December 2022.
Thriving Communities grants from the HUD portion of the program focused on planning for housing opportunities near transportation options are now available. Applications for HUD Thriving Communities grants are available on a rolling basis until all funds are distributed. HUD expects to support 30 to 35 communities with technical assistance in 2023 with a focus on vacant properties, zoning reform, affordable housing preservation, and intergovernmental cooperation.
Detailed Guidance for HUD Thriving Communities
Transportation Alternative Program
BIL expanded and reformed this critical program which supports smaller biking and walking projects. Importantly, BIL increased the size of the transportation alternatives set aside to 10 percent of the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, or $1.38 billion, up from $850 million last year.
With the passage of the new law, MPOs have access to a greater share of funding — 59 percent — and new criteria for advancing equity as well as new set aside financial support for technical assistance.
Highway Safety Improvement Program
This program, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads, saw an increase in funding to $15.5 billion over five years. Importantly, HSIP uses planning to target vulnerable populations and the areas of greatest need. Planning and assessment of vulnerabilities is a requirement to be eligible for funds, and funding will be directed to locations identified in the plans and assessments. With 2 percent of funding earmarked for statewide planning, the program supports safety projects ranging from protected bike lanes to Safe Routes to School initiatives.
Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program
Under BIL, CMAQ was expanded, and for the first time, micromobility is explicitly an eligible use. Communities may now use CMAQ funding on bikeshare and shared-scooter systems as well as for the purchase of medium- or heavy-duty zero emission vehicles and related charging equipment. Distributed by state departments of transportation, planners have an opportunity to engage with state leaders to secure funding for newly eligible micromobility projects.
Safe Streets and Roads for All
This program aims to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries by helping local governments, MPOs, and tribal governments develop and implement comprehensive safety action plans. SS4A is a discretionary program with $5 billion in appropriated funds over the next five years. This is one of the largest new investments directly in planning. Importantly, the action plan and implementation grants available through this program can connect and extend the Vision Zero planning efforts underway in many communities.
Planners need to remain advocates for this program as its funding is part of the annual appropriations process and local governments are directly eligible for funding.
Earlier this year, DOT announced winners of the $800 million in 2022 grants. These grants will support more than 500 communities across the nation with funds for 473 action planning grants and 37 implementation grants. The 2023 competition is now open.
Planning for Emerging Needs and Technologies
Electric Vehicle Formula Program
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration announced $5 billion for a new Electric Vehicle Formula Program to provide money to build electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Electric vehicle charging is eligible for funding through the existing Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP) and allows for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles in the CMAQ Improvement Program.
The program requires states to submit an EV deployment plan before they can access the funds. State deployment plans were submitted and approved earlier this year. A new joint US Department of Transportation and Department of Energy EV charging office was established last year.
Earlier this month, the Biden Administration announced new standards for the production, construction, and design of federally-funded EV charging stations. The release of these standards will jump start the opportunity for communities, MPOs, tribes, and states to apply for competitive charging station grants. Overall, BIL provides $2.5 billion for Charging and Fueling Infrastructure grants. An initial competition for $700 million is expected to launch this spring.
Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program
The program will offer up to $100 million in grants annually over the next five years and will fund projects that use data and technology to solve real-world challenges facing communities today. The SMART program will fund purpose-driven innovation and focus on building data and technology capacity and expertise. MPOs are eligible to apply.
Detailed Guidance for Grant Applications
Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) Program
ATTAIN aims to improve safety and reduce travel times for drivers and transit riders. ATTAIN-eligible projects will be evaluated on how they consider climate change and environmental justice impacts — including how they reduce transportation-related air pollution and address the disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities. In addition, projects are evaluated on their economic impact and potential to create jobs.
American Rescue Plan Programs
US Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer recently urged US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to allow states and localities to use State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds for capacity building. Sen. Schumer argues that communities and states need additional capacity to apply for and leverage transformational programs and support created through the BIL and IRA.