To Fund or Not Fund Federally: Using APPLE to Answer the Question

Posted by on Aug 12, 2014
Homewood sidewalk project. (Photo by al.com)

Homewood sidewalk project. (Photo by al.com)

This post was written based on an interview done with Scott Tillman, RPCGB Director of Planning and Operations and Darrell Howard, AICP, PTP, RPCGB Deputy Director of Planning

As we mentioned last week, determining whether or not your project should be funded federally can be difficult. Luckily, in 2012, Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham developed the Advanced Planning Programming and Logical Engineering (APPLE) initiative to help.

APPLE is primarily a feasibility study to find out if projects are good candidates to move forward and identify how they should be funded. One of the biggest advantages of the program is that if you do start a project with federal funds but end up completing it locally, you do not have to pay the money back as you normally would.

When creating APPLE, we were able to show the federal government that feasibility planning is more cost efficient for them and us in the long-run. We spend a smaller amount of money to properly study each project, and all of the materials that are developed in the APPLE program can be used in the preliminary engineering and environmental phases. APPLE gives us factual information about traffic, drainage, connections to existing features, etc. Perceptions of traffic congestion can be different for different people, but the program quantifies it.

The City of Helena played a big part in getting the program started. They estimated that a trail project would cost $400,000. It turned out to be a $4 million project that took 10 years and involved federal funding. The issues encountered started the conversation about finding a better way to determine which type of funding is best for projects. After the city’s experience with their trail project, they were the first community to use APPLE on a corridor study to help determine where to use what type of funding.

Another good example took place in Homewood. They set aside one million dollars to fund new sidewalks locally. In going this local route, they had the money to build 60% more sidewalks than they would have been able to build if they used federal money only. In the areas where they found the project was going to be much more difficult and expensive, they used federal funds. They were smart by prioritizing all of their sidewalks and doing a lot of planning. Good planning is key. If you plan well, you can get what you want.

It can be challenging for engineers to be able to totally scope a project, and APPLE has been extremely helpful in doing this. It removes the guesswork because we know our purpose and need, environmental issues, red flags and social issues on the front end. We also are able to get a really good idea about how much the project is going to cost, so we know when federal funding is the right fit.

Leave a Reply