Two Years in to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: A Reflection on State Implementation of the Transportation Alternatives Program

November marked two years since the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and when it comes to how states are implementing the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), there is a lot to celebrate! Let’s look back at some of the biggest changes to the program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and how they impacted states’ implementation of TAP.

  • 60 percent increase in TAP funding. Two years in we can see that more money = more projects! This quarter, states crossed the $1 billion of BIL TAP funds obligated – just of new money. This year states also crossed the milestone of 10,000 individual projects and programs funded by Transportation Alternatives since 2013 (not including Recreational Trails projects, which are administered through state departments of natural resource rather than departments of transportation). When we advocated for an increase in funding, we elevated the fact that demand for projects that promote walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School far outpaced available funds. Trends continue to show that communities want these types of projects, and in most states, demand still exceeds funding available, but now more communities of all sizes are receiving TAP funds. The other good thing is that even though there is so much new money, states are effectively moving projects through the award and obligation process, and no states let funds lapse in 2023.
  • New requirements before transferring funds out of the program. Before BIL, states could transfer out up to half of their TAP funds to other uses, and many states did this. BIL requires states to provide technical assistance and award all eligible projects before transferring funds out of TAP, and that is working to keep TAP funds for TAP projects. However, five states did still transfer funds out of the program: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, and Wisconsin, which is very disappointing. That said, there are lots of examples from states all across the country for how to improve the technical assistance offered to communities to get high quality applications in the door to ensure that all eligible projects receive funding, and whether you’re with the DOT, an advocacy group, or a regular resident, we are happy to help your state figure out the best way to do this.
  • Ability to use funds to provide technical assistance. The BIL provides states with the flexibility to use up to five percent of their Transportation Alternatives Program funds to provide technical assistance to improve the quality of applications and to expedite project delivery: AL, CT, ID, MT, NY, PA, and TX. There are seven states that have obligated funds on providing technical assistance to date. We know from our biannual state report cards that many states have been providing technical assistance even before they had this funding, and from our quantitative analysis of federal spending as well as conversations with DOTs across the country, it seems that most states are continuing to staff the program and provide technical assistance without using the funding within the program, which is fine. It means more money is available to spend on projects!
  • Requirement to define and prioritize high-need communities. New in the BIL is a requirement that states define and prioritize high-need communities in TAP. Again, from our state report card research, we know that about 40 percent of states were doing this before it was required. From our tracking to date, many states that were not doing this before BIL are now, and we will have a more thorough analysis of all 50 states when we publish our 2024 state report cards in spring 2024.
  • Promotion of flexing funds to expedite project delivery. In its guidance on TAP, the Federal Highway Administration promoted opportunities to expedite project delivery, including by transferring funds to the Federal Transit Administration. Our quarterly TAP State of the States analysis reveals that many more states are transferring TAP funds to FTA. Typically, the word “transfer” conjures negative reactions, but there are such things as “good transfers”, and given the flexibilities Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration elucidated to expedite project delivery for FHWA projects transferred to FTA, this is the type of transfer we are happy to see.

We look forward to monitoring more great progress in 2024! In 2024, we will conduct deeper research on facets of state TAP implementation and look forward to sharing out innovations, creative adaptations, and more milestones related to the Transportation Alternatives Program.