How will MAP-21 affect funding for local governments?
The new federal surface transportation bill, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21, makes major changes to the federal highway, transit and safety programs that funnel more than half a billion dollars to Oregon’s transportation system each year.
Overall, Oregon’s federal highway funding will be flat under MAP-21, while the state will get slightly more transit funding than in the past. However, there are significant changes in the way this funding will flow to ODOT and local governments under various programs. MAP-21 consolidated dozens of federal highway programs into just a handful of major funding streams, simplifying a complicated program structure and increasing flexibility in spending federal transportation dollars.
On the whole, decisions that ODOT has made on implementing MAP-21’s highway programs mean that local governments won’t see many significant changes in the way funding is distributed over the next several years—and local governments are likely to get a bit more money than in the past, even though the state’s overall funding is flat. In fact, even though MAP-21 eliminates a number of programs and cuts funding for others, ODOT has agreed to honor the commitment of funding to programs and projects in the 2012-15 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), particularly for the active transportation programs that fund bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Here’s an overview on how funding will flow to local governments under various programs.
- Surface Transportation Program (STP): ODOT has a working agreement with cities and counties that governs the annual distribution of tens of millions of dollars of STP funds. Each county, metropolitan planning organization and city with a population above 5000 that lies outside an MPO receives an allocation of STP funds according to formulas in the working agreement (or in federal law for large MPOs). This agreement is in the process of being renewed, and local governments will continue to receive STP funds at similar levels to recent years.
- Bridges: In the past, ODOT shared federal Bridge program funds with local governments based on need. Though MAP-21 eliminates the Bridge program, ODOT has agreed to continue funding the Local Bridge Program into the future at levels similar to recent years. Projects will continue to be recommended for OTC approval by the Local Agency Bridge Selection Committee, which includes three members from ODOT, three appointed by the Association of Oregon Counties and three appointed by the League of Oregon Cities.
- Active Transportation: MAP-21 makes significant changes to the primary programs that fund bicycle and pedestrian projects: Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails are combined into one funding source known as the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and Safe Routes to School projects are considered an eligible activity under TAP. Overall funding levels are cut by nearly 40 percent, and large MPOs will get a direct allocation of TAP funding. Using the flexibility under MAP-21, ODOT has agreed to honor commitments to these bicycle and pedestrian programs in the 2012-2015 STIP, which will provide about $4 million per year more than MAP-21 provides to Oregon. In 2016 and beyond, these programs will be folded into the STIP Enhance category, though ODOT will continue to setaside funding for non-infrastructure Safe Routes to School projects (including education).
- Safety: With Oregon’s funding under the Highway Safety Improvement Program increased by about 50 percent, ODOT will significantly increase the amount of funding available for safety projects on local roads. Through a process that is still under development, safety funding will be distributed to each ODOT region, which will collaborate with local governments to select projects that can reduce fatalities and serious injuries, regardless of whether they lie on a local road or a state highway.
- Federal Lands: The Forest Highways Program, which funded projects on roads that are on or provide access to national forests, was replaced by the Federal Lands Access Program, which will fund state and local road projects that improve access to any type of federal land—including Bureau of Land Management tracts, national parks, and wildlife refuges. For the first time, local governments will have an official seat at the table where decisions are made on funding projects, and Oregon’s funding under the program increased slightly.
- Covered Bridges and Scenic Byways: In eliminating virtually all discretionary highway programs, MAP-21 discontinued dedicated nationwide funding streams for historic covered bridges and scenic byways. Even though these were small programs, Oregon projects competed extremely well on the national level, bringing home millions of dollars each year. However, local governments will still have opportunities to secure funding for these projects. Many scenic byways infrastructure projects will be eligible under the STIP Enhance category. Covered bridges that carry highway traffic will be eligible for funding under the Local Bridge Program or for State Highway Fund or STP resources provided to local governments, and the covered bridges that carry only pedestrian or bicycle traffic will be eligible for Transportation Alternatives Program funding under the STIP Enhance category.