To Fund or Not Fund Federally

Posted by on Aug 5, 2014

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

Depending on the project and situation, federal funding can be a great thing. But it’s not always the best fit. Dwindling federal resources is a key reason why the decision to fund projects federally is so important. We need to use the funds carefully.

Sain Associates is an at-large member of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) Transportation Technical Committee for the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Under federal law, urban areas with 50,000 people or more have to use the metropolitan planning process. The metropolitan planning processes is the basis of the metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The MPO is essentially a funding conduit between the federal government and the local governments, where the local governments are given a voice in how and where federal dollars are spent. The federal and state governments can’t make decisions about projects if the local governments are opposed or have concerns. The RPCGB receives federal money based on population, miles of functionally classified roadways, and air quality status.

It’s so important to make the right decision from the beginning. If you start down the federal funding road but decide it’s not going to work, you could potentially have to pay the federal government back for any federal monies spent planning and engineering the project. This means you could be out hundreds of thousand of dollars and still not have a completed project.

Sometimes people wonder why projects take so long or why they stall. Federal funding issues are often part of the reason. We’ve seen many projects die because cities may not be able to meet all of the federal requirements. Federal requirements such as ADA compliance, environmental reviews, and considerations of reasonable accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians add both cost and time to a project. Cost increases means more local money is needed to match federal funding, and time extensions expose projects to additional economic risks e.g. inflation. Smaller cities also have trouble if they try to advance too many federal-aid projects at the same time. Finally, the process for reviewing federal-aid projects is cumbersome, and the bureaucracy to receive both federal and state decisions about specific project elements is layered with many steps and involved people.

So with all these issues, is it possible to successfully determine whether your project should be funded federally or from another source? Thanks to a RPCGB program that Sandra Bonner at ALDOT 3rd Division and Becky White at Sain Associates helped to create, we have an efficient new option that has been working well for our state, which we’ll discuss in next week’s blog post.

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