On Monday, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released its final guidance on the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and – like the interim guidance released last fall – it’s really a mixed result.

FHWA releases guidance to help State Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) interpret the federal transportation law, MAP-21, and let them know what U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) expects. In many cases, states have been reluctant to move forward on TAP because they wanted to make sure their interpretation of the bill was consistent with FHWA’s interpretation.

Overall, we had hoped that the final guidance would be more in-depth and answer more questions than it does. The chart below shows how the new guidance compares to our recommendations back in November.

Now that the guidance is out there’s no reason for States and MPOs to wait to start their process. Also please continue to keep us informed on what interpretations of the guidance you are hearing at the State and local level.  We have been working with USDOT to clarify questions and concerns, and to let them know what guidance needs more guidance!

Click here to view the full chart.

The Good News

Boulevard definition: Under MAP-21, Congress not only combined the dedicated biking and walking program into Transportation Alternatives, they also added in new eligibilities. One we were concerned with was the addition of “planning, redesigning or constructing boulevards…”  The bicycling community was concerned that this meant States could use a significant chunk of TAP to do a new road.

The FHWA guidance mitigates that concern by defining boulevard by using the ITE definition,  of a boulevard (Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, page 52, Table 4.2. ) and specifically states that a ‘boulevard ‘ project should include traffic calming, context sensitive bike and ped facilities, compliance with accessibility requirements, transit promotion or environmentally sustainable practices.  If a community decides to apply for a boulevard project it should at least be a complete street.

Model MPO competitive grant process: In the interim guidance, FHWA stated that they would publish a model Request for Proposals that states and MPOs could use at their discretion. Instead, they did not do this in the final guidance. Instead FHWA included links to resources on Advocacy Advance’s MAP-21 website as well as to the National Transportation Alternatives Clearinghouse (NTAC) site.

While it would be nice to have model guidance with the DOT stamp of approval, this is pretty close. Advocacy Advance, a partnership between the League and the Alliance for Biking & Walking, will incorporate the new guidance into their resources. Thanks to Advocacy Advance and the MPO working group for their advice.

The Bad

Coburn opt-out: MAP -21 included language that said if, over time, a state’s TAP unspent grow to be larger than one-year’s total TA allocation, then those funds could be used for a variety of things, and not just TA eligible projects.  We had hoped this would be addressed in the guidance, to ensure the state made a good faith effort to spend their TAP funding on what it was intended for.  The guidance doesn’t address it.

Model State competitive grant process: We had hoped the guidance would not only do a model competitive process at the MPO level, but also do one for the state level- including best practices and recommendations on application deadlines, process, and timely obligations for efficient, effective competitive programs.

The Unexpected

Suballocation:  The final guidance is clear that the 50% that goes to the state CAN NOT be suballocated.  This is new and surprising- and not just to us.  A few states had been planning on suballocating all of their TAP funding—and will now have to back to the drawing board.

Landscaping, streetscaping, etc. – There were several Transportation Enhancements eligibilities that are not eligibile under TAP. Under the new guidance, it states that if streetscaping is part of a larger TA project then its allowed.  (ie- if you are putting in a new sidewalk you can do some landscaping/streetscaping as part of that.)  That was expected.

The unexpected piece is that the guidance says these projects “may be” eligible if chosen through a competitive process.  My understanding is that it leaves it up to the MPO or State running that process- but I’m in the process of learning more.

And the WHAT?

Junkyard screening: There are several references to junkyard screening being an eligible use of TAP funding in the new guidance. This is new and unexpected, and given a careful read of eligibilities we don’t see why it is there.  (Luckily this doesn’t rank high in our competitive process suggestions!)

Stay tuned for more information as we learn more and see how the guidance is interpreted.  And as always, please send your questions share your experiences with Advocacy Advance as you work with your local governments, MPOs and States to Navigate MAP-21.

My Signature

Caron Whitaker
Vice President of Government Relations

Prior to joining the League of American Bicyclists in 2012, Ms. Whitaker served as the Campaign Director for America Bikes where she coordinated and implemented America Bikes federal policy agenda. Before that, she worked for the National Wildlife Federation on smart growth, international policy, and community engagement. In addition, Caron served as a Community Land Use Planner for the State of North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, providing technical assistance to local governments and staffing a stakeholders’ council responsible for revising state planning regulations. She has a Masters in Environmental Management for Duke University, Nicolas School of the Environment and a Bachelors of Arts from Williams College.

via Bikeleague.org Blog http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2013/06/final-guidance-on-tap-program-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-2/