Aerial view of a highway interchange

New federal transportation department grants designed to help communities reconnect by easing infrastructure barriers and promoting safety

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is administering two new grant programs which will award a total of $1.195 billion in grants to state, local and tribal entities for projects. The Reconnecting Communities Pilot (RCP) program is intended to reconnect communities harmed by transportation infrastructure, through community supported planning activities and capital construction projects championed by those communities. The Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program is focused on improving road safety through funding of incremental and specific projects.

The RCP program will provide technical assistance and capital funding for transportation projects to address infrastructure barriers and restore community connectivity. The program is designed to support and engage economically disadvantaged communities to increase affordable, accessible and multimodal access to daily destinations like jobs, healthcare, grocery stores, schools, places of worship, recreation and park space.

The deadline for applying for an RCP grant is Oct. 13, 2022.

While the RCP is more barrier infrastructure and community outreach-focused, the SS4A program is a new DOT program offering $1 billion per year over five years, starting in 2022. The program funds transportation safety efforts for projects that prevent deaths and serious injuries.

The deadline for applying for this grant is Sept. 15, 2022.

Overview of RCP program
An “eligible facility” under the RCP includes a highway or other transportation facility that creates a barrier to community connectivity – including barriers to mobility, access or economic development – due to high speeds, grade separations or other design factors. Eligible facilities include:

  • Limited access highways
  • Viaducts
  • Other principal arterial facilities
  • Transit lines
  • Rail lines
  • Gas pipelines
  • Airports

Merit criteria
Projects should address each of the merit criteria: equity, environmental justice and community engagement, mobility and community connectivity, and community-based stewardship, management and partnerships. RCP planning grants may range from $100,000 to $2,000,000. Capital construction grants may range from $5 million to $100 million.

Eligible planning grants
The following activities are eligible for planning grants:

  • Public engagement, including community visioning or public input into project plans
  • Planning studies to assess feasibility of removing, retrofitting or mitigating an existing eligible facility, including:
    - Current traffic patterns on the facility and the surrounding street network
    - Capacity of existing transportation networks to maintain mobility needs
    - Alternative roadway designs or other uses for the right-of-way
    - The project’s impact on mobility of freight and people
    - The project’s impact on safety
    - The estimated cost to restore community connectivity and to convert the facility to a different design or use, compared to any expected maintenance or reconstruction costs
    - The project’s anticipated economic impact and development opportunities
    - The project’s environmental, public health and community impacts
  • Conceptual and preliminary engineering, or design and planning studies that support the environmental review for a construction project
  • Associated needs such as, land use and zoning reform, transit-oriented development, housing supply, location-efficient affordable housing, managing gentrification and neighborhood change, proposed project impact mitigation, green and open space, local history and culture, access and mobility barriers, jobs and workforce or other necessary planning activities

Eligible capital construction grants
Eligible projects include those for which all necessary feasibility studies and other planning activities have been completed. The project must be consistent with state and local transportation plans. Eligible projects include:

  • Preliminary and detailed design activities and associated environmental studies
  • Predevelopment/preconstruction permitting activities including completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process
  • Removal, retrofit or mitigation of an eligible facility
  • Replacement of an eligible facility with a new facility that restores community connectivity
  • Delivering community benefits and the mitigation of impacts identified through the NEPA process
  • Other planning and project development for the capital construction project

SS4A program
The Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program funds development of a comprehensive safety action plan, including planning or design activities to achieve a goal of zero fatalities or serious injuries from transportation activities.

An action plan should include:

  • Leadership commitment and goal setting
  • A planning structure to oversee, implement and evaluate the project
  • Safety analysis
  • Engagement and collaboration
  • Equity considerations
  • Policy and process changes
  • Strategy and project selections

Implementation grants include the following activities:

  • Applying low-cost roadway safety treatments
  • Identifying and correcting common risks across a network
  • Transforming a roadway corridor on a high-injury network into a complete street
  • Installing pedestrian safety enhancements and closing network gaps 
  • Working with community members in an identified problem area 
  • Supporting the development of bikeway networks 
  • Carrying out speed management strategies 
  • Creating safe routes to school and public transit services 
  • Promoting the adoption of innovative technologies or strategies to promote safety
  • Conducting education campaigns to accompany new or innovative infrastructure
  • Implementing standard and novel data collection and analysis technologies and strategies
  • Deploying advanced transportation technologies
  • Combating roadway departure crashes 
  • Evaluating and improving the safety of intersections 
  • Improving first responder services 
  • Unifying and integrating safety data across jurisdictions 

The DOT expects to award hundreds of action plan grants and at least 100 implementation grants, per the funding announcement. The SS4A action plan program has a $200,000 minimum and $1,000,000 maximum award range. The implementation grant has an expected range of $5,000,000 and a maximum award of $30,000,000. 

These new DOT programs have the potential to address transportation barriers and improve safety in all types of communities, particularly underserved rural and urban communities. With all the new recent federal funding, including from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act, communities, tribal entities, or regional jurisdictions should start visioning, planning and developing a multi-layered funding strategy for their project plan now, including grant writing. If more planning time is needed, the programs are multi-year programs and support for pursuing project funding is available.

Marta Purdy