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How New Climate Programs Will Benefit Biking: a Carbon Reduction Program analysis
One of the exciting firsts in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is the Climate title. A title in a bill is like a chapter, and this Climate title is the first-ever in a transportation funding bill. By Congress addressing climate in the BIL, they are acknowledging both that transportation contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, and that the effects of climate change, including natural disasters and excessive heat, affect the safety and condition of transportation infrastructure.
The Climate title includes six new programs:
- Grants for charging and fueling infrastructure
- Reducing truck emissions at port facilities
- Carbon reduction
- Congestion relief
- Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT)
- Healthy Streets
Because these programs are brand new, states will wait until the Federal Highway Administration releases guidance on how to use the program funding before implementing anything.
Carbon Reduction Program
In April, FHWA released guidance on the Carbon Reduction Program to encourage states to start using it. For US Department of Transportation (US DOT), releasing guidance on the new Climate title programs is a way for the Biden administration to meet its overall climate goals. The Carbon Reduction program is especially important to them now, as Congress has (so far) been unsuccessful at passing any other climate initiatives. The guidance released by the Federal Highway Administration, like the Transportation Alternatives guidance, shows a US DOT ready to be active in pushing states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are offering technical assistance, help with measuring emissions, and discouraging transfers of funds to other programs.
What this means for bicycling and walking advocacy organizations
The Carbon Reduction Program represents a massive opportunity for both bicycling and walking projects, as well as the type of programming that can help encourage more biking: congestion pricing, traffic demand management, speed management. But, in order to access the funding, local governments and states must first put projects into the state or MPO Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP/ TIP).
STIPs (State TIPs) and TIPs (MPO level plans) can be updated at any time. Given the amount of funding available in the BIL overall, MPOs and States should be updating their plans to include projects eligible for Carbon Reduction and other programs, so it is important to advocate for bicycling and walking projects to be included.
- The funding starts at $1.23 billion per year for fiscal year 2022 and increases to $1.34 billion per year by 2026. This makes the program just slightly smaller than Transportation Alternatives.
- 65% of the funding is suballocated. When funds are suballocated, funds are distributed based on population size, and the percent of population living in each size community. Here is an example of suballocation.
- The funding tables break down the funding for the state, individual large MPOs (population greater than 200,000 people), individual urbanized areas (population between 50,000 and 200,000 people) and total amount available for communities between 50,000 and 5,000 people, and those under 5,000 people.
Eligible Projects (Must be in Transportation Improvement Plans)
- Transportation Alternatives
- Congestion management systems
- Deployment of infrastructure-based intelligent transportation systems
- Projects to replace street lighting and traffic control devices with energy-efficient alternatives
- Development of a carbon reduction strategy
- Congestion pricing and other strategies to shift trips away from peak hours, travel demand strategies, etc.
- Under encouraging 'Mode shift', separated bike lanes are specifically listed as well as speed management, safety projects, bike share and e-bike charging
Requires states to have Carbon Reduction Strategy
- States must create a Carbon Reduction Strategy by November 23, 2023
- Including: efforts to reduce emissions, and projects and strategies that will meet those goals
- Must be done in consultation with MPOs
- Must be updated every four years
- Encouraged to incorporate into long term planning
- States may ask FHWA for technical assistance
- Encouraged to have an evaluation process
- A state may transfer up to 35% (the remaining non suballocated funding), but the guidance discourages it stating that there is such a big increase of funding in every program, that a state should not need to transfer CRP funding.
- FHWA is not allowing transferring the first year
- In the future FHWA is asking states to first "apply [Carbon Reduction Program] funds to eligible assets owned by local governments, counties, and Tribes” before transferring
Required Consultation/Coordination with local governments
- The DOT is using this guidance to push states to coordinate more closely with MPOs by including a definition of coordination that is defined as "joint plans"
- The state must also consult with local governments in smaller areas.
- This has been a complaint of larger cities because state DOTs sometimes spend suballocated funding within MPOs on state roads without coordinating with MPOs
- One way the guidance forces the issue is by publicizing the dollar amount sent to small MPOs (population between 50 and 200,000), so that it is easier to track projects/ spending in those areas