Breaking Down the Infrastructure Bill and What it Means for WABA

Everyone in the transportation world is talking about the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (H.R.3684), which was signed into law (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) by President Biden on November 15th. The $1.2 trillion dollar package will fund road and bridge projects, invest heavily in rail and transit, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, and advance environmental justice. But how does the law impact our work here at WABA, and what will it mean for those who walk and bike in the Washington Metropolitan Region? Passing this bill has been a long and complicated process, so let’s take a look at what it means for us at a local level. 

Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)

The infrastructure bill includes a 70% increase in the legacy Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which includes the Recreational Trails Program. TAP will go from $850 million annually to an average of $1.44 billion per year. The program funds aim to expand travel choice beyond single occupancy vehicles, improve quality of life, and protect the environment by supporting multi-modal transportation projects. Counties, cities, and local agencies apply for funding for specific projects and each state makes selections in coordination with the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization. WABA does not apply for these funds directly, but we work with our jurisdictional partners to provide letters of support and help build a case for certain projects. 

How have local TAP funds been spent?

TAP funds have supported the expansion of Capital Bikeshare in Fairfax and Prince George’s County, construction of new sidewalks, planning studies for new trails across the region, intersection safety upgrades, and construction of miles of trail upgrades and new connections. In Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) selected 6 projects in the state of Maryland, one of which is the Oxon Cove Trail Resurfacing and Bridge Replacement—a top priority project for the Capital Trails Coalition. Explore recent initiatives funded through TAP on this map. With more funds available, WABA will continue to partner with our jurisdictional partners and encourage using these funds to support trail, bike lane, and vision zero priorities. 

What else is in the Act? 

Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (formally known as BUILD and TIGER) has seen an increase in funding from $1B to $1.5B annually. RAISE is a discretionary grant program under USDOT for surface transportation infrastructure projects. Projects are evaluated based on: equity criteria, innovation, how well they will enhance safety, and how well they support economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability of localities and regions. This is an extremely competitive grant program, and two projects were selected across DC, MD, and VA (for the 2021 cycle). The District was awarded $15M for Benning Road Bridges and Transportation Improvements (to extend the DC Streetcar and improve biking and walking access), and Baltimore was awarded $22M for the Baltimore East-West Priority Corridor Project. The full list of projects can be found here: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2021-11/RaiseGrants_Capital%20Fact%20Sheets.pdf

Although not selected, there were 3 applications relevant to trails in the Capital Trails Network:

1) South Capitol Street Trail, DC, DDOT

2) Cemetery Wall Trail, Arlington, Arlington DES

3) Dual-County Application by Montgomery County Parks Department, Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation, and the National Park Service (6 trail projects): 

  • Sligo Creek Rehabilitation
  • Central Avenue Connector Trail
  • Suitland Parkway Trail (Prince George’s County)
  • Prince George’s Connector Trail
  • Rock Creek Trail Rehab
  • Northwest Branch Trail Rehab

WABA’s goal is to work with our jurisdictional partners and our local elected officials to understand the shortcomings of the applications, and how to ensure a more competitive application for next year’s grant cycle. We also want to ensure that local jurisdictions are including equity in every aspect of their decision making processes.  2022 applications will likely be due in July. 

Our partners at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy advocated tirelessly for the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act. IIJA authorized this program, but re-named it as the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program. The program authorizes $200 million per year on competitive connectivity grants that will invest in projects that connect active transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the program was not funded in the Act, so funding is contingent on the annual appropriations process.

Safe Streets and Roads for All

The Act allocates $200 million per year for the new Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program, which will fund projects and plans aimed at reducing traffic fatalities and injuries in communities throughout the U.S. Unlike most federal transportation funding which filters through State transportation agencies according to state-level priorities (predominantly highways and highway expansion), these grants will be available to cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations(like the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments) and tribal governments, meaning more direct access to funds to support local priorities. The program will be managed by the office of the Secretary of Transportation, currently Pete Buttigieg, who has talked at length recently about vision zero, systemic safety, and prioritizing federal transportation funds to address the devastating impacts of highway building on communities of color.

This project will specifically fund developing comprehensive safety action plans for a community, planning, design, or project development on low-cost, high-impact elements of a safety action plan, or construction / implementation of those projects. Notably, $200 million each year will not build very much when spread across the US, but the hope is that supporting local communities to make their own vision zero action plans will identify actionable and fundable projects for future federal or state funding.

In the Washington Region, many jurisdictions already have created some form of a Vision Zero Action Plan and identified a range of actions, projects, and policy changes. This grant program may be especially helpful to support smaller cities and municipalities that want to start addressing unsafe roads, but lack the resources of their neighbors.

What about the Build Back Better Bill (BBB)? 

The Build Back Better Bill also includes some important provisions related to WABA’s work. The BBB passed the House of Representatives in late November, but has run into trouble with the Senator Joe Manchin.

The version passed by the House offers some Americans a fully refundable, 30% tax credit on purchases of certain e-bikes. Individuals who make $75,000 or less qualify for the maximum credit of up to $900. Joint filers who make up to $150,000 can qualify for two bikes and up to a $900 tax credit on each. It phases out for taxpayers above those income levels, and E-bikes with a sticker price of more than $4,000 don’t qualify for the credit.

WABA is a strong supporter of e-bikes. We believe that e-bikes increase opportunities for people who may not be able to ride a traditional bike due to physical fitness, age, or ability. E-bikes allow riders to travel farther distances, carry heavier loads (like children), and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used as an alternative to gasoline or diesel-powered modes of transportation.

BBB also includes $950 million for Community Climate Incentive Grants—carbon reduction projects for states that have adopted carbon reduction strategies aimed at achieving net-zero by 2050. $3 billion is also included for carbon reduction projects to eligible entities that are not states (local governments, tribes, or municipal planning organizations). These funds could go to zero-emission transportation options, like bicycling and walking, and projects that reduce single-occupant vehicle trips. WABA would not be applying for these funds, but we would work with our local jurisdictions to highlight eligible projects, provide letters of support, and help mobilize our base. 

Additionally, the House version of BBB includes Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants. This grant program provides $3.95 billion for projects that remove barriers to affordable and safe transportation access (complete streets, multiuse trails, regional greenways, and active transportation networks). It can also include grants to community organizations for planning and capacity-building activities in disadvantaged or underserved communities. Of the total ($3.95B), $1.58 billion must be used for projects in communities that are economically disadvantaged, have a community benefits agreement or anti-displacement policy, or have a plan for employing local residents impacted by the activity or project. WABA would be eligible to receive these grant dollars to support planning and capacity-building activities in disadvantaged or underserved communities.

Tell the Senate: Bikes Belong on the Road!

No Room to Pass

Tell the Senate bicyclists should have the freedom to choose the sidepath or roadway in Rock Creek Park. Photo Credit: MV Jantzen

For decades, cyclists have cherished their beautiful morning commutes and family bike rides through Rock Creek Park. Both the road and trail through the park provide two options for different types of cyclists.  Children and adults, less experienced riders, and those looking for a gentle and slow ride, all enjoy the multi-use path (which is in need of much improvement: read more here).  The roadway provides a space for bicyclists to travel faster (above 15 mph) to achieve a solid workout or arrive at their destination more quickly.  If the Senate passes the current draft transportation authorization bill in its current form, all bicyclists will be REQUIRED to use the Rock Creek Trail and all other sidepaths (within 100 yards) on Federal land roads with speed limits over 30 mph. This is bad policy! Sign the petition, make your voice heard. From the League of American Bicyclists:
“The draft of the Senate’s transportation authorization bill, S. 1813 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, includes language that would introduce a mandatory sidepath law on roads in our National Parks and other Federal lands. It requires cyclists on Federal lands to use a path or trail, instead of roads, if the speed limit is over 30 MPH and a trail exists within 100 yards, regardless of its condition or utility of the path. The provision sets a terrible precedent. Passing it would send the wrong message to transportation agencies that these policies are acceptable. Laws like this have been taken off the books in states over the past 30 years. This takes us in the wrong direction.”
Take a minute and sign the petition now to tell the Senate to remove the provision requiring bikes to use sidepaths! District of Columbia Residents: Please note this petition is targeted at the entire Senate and not Senator specific.  Please sign!