Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Obameter

Consider "smart growth" in transportation funding


"Will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account."

Updates

Obama administration factors "sustainability" principles into transportation funding

When he was running for president, Barack Obama promised to "re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account." Since we last looked at this promise -- and a similar one, Promise 487 -- his administration has made tangible progress using the model it had unveiled.

On Oct. 21, 2010, the administration announced that a partnership of three agencies -- the Transportation Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency -- had released a total of $409.5 million in awards, using a variety of programs. The three-agency alliance, known as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, is designed to promote principles similar to what Obama had advocated under the umbrella of "smart growth." They include minimizing traffic congestion and commuting times and providing transportation options beyond the automobile, all of which can keep housing and transportation costs low for residents and make the most efficient and environmentally sensitive use of land and other natural resources.

In a statement released at the Oct. 21, 2010, event, Obama said, "We"re working to change the way government works, and that means investing tax dollars wisely and well. We want to make sure that, when we"re building infrastructure, we"re considering how housing, transportation, and the environment all impact each other. These grants are designed to get the biggest bang for our tax dollar buck.” 

As we noted in our previous update, the Obama Administration hasn't rebuilt the transportation funding system from scratch, but his administration has inserted "smart growth" principles into one important program -- Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants under the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

TIGER grants, provided for under Title XII of the stimulus bill, will make $1.5 billion available through Sept. 30, 2011, for highway, bridge, railway and port projects. They are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that are deemed to have "a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region." Among those eligible for the grants are state and local governments, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations and multijurisdictional applicants.

Several criteria will play a role in determining which projects are funded, including economic stimulus impact, the contribution to longer-term U.S. economic competitiveness, improvements to safety -- and "livability" and "sustainability." The Transportation Department defines livability as "improving the quality of living and working environments and the experience for people in communities across the United States." It defines sustainability as "improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefitting the environment."

The three-agency partnership has pursued sustainability through other programs as well. They include: 

-- HUD Community Challenge Grants. In partnership with the TIGER program, HUD will spend up to $40 million "to support local planning activities that integrate transportation, housing, and economic development."

-- HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants. In June 2010, HUD opened the application process for $100 million in grants to "support metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments."

-- Urban Circulator and Bus Livability Projects. In July 2010, the Transportation Department awarded nearly $300 million under two new programs to "fund streetcar, bus, and other urban transportation projects that connect destinations and foster walkable, mixed-use redevelopment." The grants went to 47 projects in 31 states.

-- State Revolving Funds for Water Infrastructure. In a May 2010 guidance, EPA urged states receiving $3.3 billion in funding for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to discourage expanding infrastructure to accommodate growth if there are available facilities in existing communities.

-- Smart Growth Implementation Assistance. This program provides technical assistance to three-to-five communities selected competitively each year. The entities that took part in the first year were the state of California; Louisville, Ky.; Montgomery County, Md.; and Las Cruces, N.M.

-- Greening America"s Capitals. An EPA-led project will assist as many as five state capital cities per year to "develop a vision of distinctive, environmentally friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green building and green infrastructure."

-- HUD Grant Application Criteria. In May 2010, HUD announced that it will use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) as a factor in scoring applications for $3.25 billion in discretionary funding.

-- Executive Order 13514. This order, signed Oct. 5, 2009, is intended to make federal government facilities more sustainable, requiring agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make buildings more energy efficient and work with communities to site federal buildings near transit and affordable housing and with easy access on foot or bike.

This does not mean that "smart growth" factors will be used in every federal transportation funding decision. But this is a long list of programs with significant dollars behind them, some of which has already been spent in localities. As we did with Promise 487, we rate it a Promise Kept.

Sources:

Partnership for Sustainable Communities, "A Year of Progress for American Communities," accessed Dec. 1, 2010

Department of Transportation, "Partnership for Sustainable Communities Awards Grants to Build Infrastructure Nationwide" (news release), Oct. 21, 2010

E-mail interviews with Olivia Alair, Transportation Department spokeswoman

Administration factors "smart growth" into transportation grants

When he was running for president, Barack Obama promised to "re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account." He hasn't rebuilt the transportation funding system from scratch, but his administration has inserted "smart growth" principles into at least one program — Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants under the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

First, some background about "smart growth."

Three federal agencies — the Transportation Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency — have begun working jointly toward creating what the administration has termed "more livable communities," a concept considered similar to "smart growth." The principles underlying this concept include minimizing traffic congestion and commuting times and providing transportation options beyond the automobile, all of which can keep housing and transportation costs low for residents and make the most efficient and cleanest use of land and other natural resources.
 
"Creating livable communities will result in improved quality of life for all Americans and create a more efficient and more accessible transportation network that serves the needs of individual communities," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on June 16, 2009. "Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects and programs will help America"s neighborhoods become safer, healthier and more vibrant."

The impact of these ideas on transportation funding is clearest in TIGER grants. These grants, provided for under Title XII of the stimulus bill, will make $1.5 billion available through Sept. 30, 2011, for highway, bridge, railway and port projects. They are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that are deemed to have "a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region." Among those eligible for the grants are state and local governments, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations and multijurisdictional applicants.

Several criteria will play a role in determining which projects are funded, including economic stimulus impact, the contribution to longer-term U.S. economic competitiveness, improvements to safety — and "livability" and "sustainability." The Transportation Department defines livability as "improving the quality of living and working environments and the experience for people in communities across the United States." It defines sustainability as "improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefitting the environment."

Such principles will not play a role in the decisions for all federally funded transportation projects. But their use in determining how $1.5 billion is spent on TIGER grants represents a major step toward fulfilling President Obama's promise. We rate it as In the Works.

Sources:

Transportation Department, "DOT Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" web page , accessed Oct. 5, 2009

E-mail interview with Olivia Alair, Transportation Department spokeswoman, Sept. 24, 2009