6.30 Reconnecting Communites

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) continues to roll out new and expanded grant programs from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The latest of these is the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The Reconnecting Communities Pilot will provide $1 billion over five years to assist with “the removal, retrofit, mitigation, or replacement of eligible transportation infrastructure facilities that create barriers to mobility, access, or economic development.” Local governments can apply directly for these funds to tackle challenges with mobility, accessibility, and equity.

Eligible Projects

According to USDOT, projects may include “high-quality public transportation, infrastructure removal, pedestrian walkways and overpasses, capping over roadways, linear parks and trail connectors, roadway redesigns and complete streets conversions, and main street revitalization.”

States, municipalities, units of local government, tribes, MPOs, and non-profits have until Thursday, October 13, 2022, to apply for the first year of funding, totaling $195 million. Funds are available for planning grants and capital construction grants.

Planning Grants:

More than 25% of grant funds – totaling $50 million – are set aside for planning. Planning grants are anticipated to range from $100,000 to $2 million, and a non-federal match of at least 20% is required. Eligible uses of planning grant funds include:

  • Traffic analysis, current, and future safety conditions, economic evaluations, and environmental studies
  • Public engagement activities, including public meetings, outreach materials, and surveys to help find appropriate solutions
  • Other transportation planning activities required for project approval

Capital Construction Grants:

Approximately $145 million is available for capital construction grants, which can be used for the construction, retrofit, or removal of infrastructure that creates a barrier. Capital construction grants can fund up to 50% of eligible project costs. Awards will range from $5 million to $100 million. In order to be eligible for a capital construction grant, a project sponsor must have completed all necessary planning and feasibility studies, and the project must be included in a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program.

Notably, projects can be partially funded if the funded project components have independent utility. The remaining project elements may receive additional consideration under other USDOT grant programs like RAISE, MPDG, and TIFIA.

Project Criteria

Projects will be evaluated on the following merit criteria:

  • Equity, Environmental Justice, and Community Engagement
  • Mobility and Community Connectivity
  • Community-based Stewardship, Management, and Partnerships
  • Equitable Investment and Shared Prosperity

Projects will also be scored on their project readiness, benefit-cost analysis, and other considerations.

Reconnecting Communities Through Highway Caps

For many communities, the barrier to connectivity is a highway that crosses through a neighborhood or downtown below ground level, limiting the ability to cross and divide the area. One solution may be to “cap” the highway with a land bridge that better connects the area with a park or other open space.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s “Park Over the Highway” project is a prime example of how this can be done through collaboration – in this case, with a team of 14 partners/agencies. CMT served as the lead consultant on the project, which connects the Gateway Arch grounds with downtown St. Louis. The Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial had always drawn ample tourists. An interstate highway, however, was a barrier to walkability from other parts of the city, as well as an obstacle for Arch visitors to venture downtown during their sightseeing. Interstate traffic was also a source of noise pollution around a major landmark and the city’s riverfront.

The Park Over the Highway project included capping the interstate, designing and constructing a walkable green space to draw visitors and residents to and from downtown, and creating a safe and accessible environment for all users. The result is an improved connection to downtown, enhanced economic opportunity for the city, and what in 2018 became a new national park. Today, the completed site serves as an inviting destination for tourists; a scenic gathering place for local walkers, runners, and cyclists; and a community hub for seasonal fun like live music, ice skating, fireworks shows, and more.

Panoramic View of Park Over the Highway

The Park Over the Highway connects the city to the Arch and to the riverfront.

How CMT Can Assist Your Community

For local governments, this type of project can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine a community or downtown corridor. Accordingly, it requires great planning, coordination with multiple stakeholders, and creative solutions that can eliminate barriers while maintaining existing transportation options.

Here’s a look at how CMT can assist your community in the process:

  • Evaluating this opportunity for your community and its specific challenges
  • Working with you to develop a solution that suits your community, from planning and public outreach to ribbon cutting
  • Engineering and design services
  • Grant writing and application preparation to help position your project for success

To learn how CMT’s safety and funding experts can support clients in pursuing these and other new funds, contact us at questions@cmtengr.com.