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Utilizing transportation enhancement (TE) money is one of the most effective ways to fund surface transportation projects.

In the past, these monies have financed pedestrian and bicycle trails, landscaping treatments and scenic beautification projects; mitigated environmental pollution; and maintained habitat connectivity.

So how can your community secure these versatile funds for your own projects?

First, you need to understand the ins and outs of transportation enhancement funds.

Where does transportation enhancement money come from?

TE is part of the Surface Transportation Program administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Under the program, funds are passed to state departments of transportation and/or regional/metropolitan planning organizations for infrastructure projects that have regional or statewide significance.

The current reauthorization of the federal transportation budget, coined the Safe, Accountable, Flexible & Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), continues the current apportionment formula, capping TE reserves at 10 percent. This figure is significant when you consider that the reauthorization bill for surface transportation projects totaled more than $5 billion in 2004 and will reach $5.8 billion in 2009.

How can funds be used?

The FHWA’s definition of surface transportation includes all elements of the transportation system except aviation.

Part of the appeal of TE funding is that it can be used to fund a wide array of improvements relating to surface transportation. In fact, there are 12 different types of activities eligible for TE funding.

Trails are among the most common projects, but communities have also used the money to restore buildings, fund landscape, public art, street furniture and lighting associated with a streetscape project, and acquire scenic land easements and buildings.

What barriers are there to obtaining these funds?

TE funds are subject to several federal procurement policies, environmental statutes and potential prevailing wage standards.

It’s recommended that you consult with a state department of transportation official or metropolitan planning organization representative to confirm all rules and policies that would apply to your project. The following is an overview of some of the more significant requirements you’ll need to adhere to:

• The project must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to the extent that the state historic preservation office is consulted to assess architectural and archeological impacts of the project.

• Design and construction projects must be coordinated with the state department of transportation.

• Plans and specifications must be completed by a licensed professional engineer, architect or landscape architect.

• Federal aid funding requires that the Federal-Aid Consultant Selection Process must be used.

• An FHWA Memorandum dated July 28, 1994 provides some guidance on the applicability of the Davis-Bacon Act concerning prevailing wages on the use of TE funded projects. This memo indicates that if the project is linked to a federal-aid highway based on proximity or impact (i.e., without the federal-aid highway the project would not exist), then the Davis-Bacon requirements apply. This would include removal of outdoor advertising, a wetland to filter highway drainage, etc.

If the project is not linked and is eligible solely on function (i.e., a transportation facility like a bike path, the restoration of a train station, etc.) then the Davis-Bacon requirements do not apply. The Davis-Bacon requirements are applicable to projects that are greater than $2,000 or are physically located within the existing right-of-way of a federal-aid highway, regardless of the transportation enhancement characteristics.

How can communities tap into these funds?

TE funding is available to public agencies and non-profit organizations and is highly competitive. Private applications are allowed but must be accompanied by a public agency co-sponsor.

Solicitations for proposals generally occur once a year in late fall or early winter and require a funding match that may range from 20 percent to 30 percent from a local sponsor. The percentage of the minimum local match may vary based on whether the state or metropolitan planning organization administers the program.

How do you prepare a successful application?

Although there are no guarantees that grants will be funded, there are some practices that can improve the likelihood that your proposal will receive financial support.

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