Substantial Transportation Funding Opportunities Blossoming

While this May has been cold, transportation funding opportunities are starting to heat up. The month of May brings with it funding opportunities for Ohio’s Transportation Improvement Districts (TIDs).  Ohio has 51 TIDs covering large areas of the state.  These intergovernmental agencies are designed to foster planning and cooperation among different counties and local governments to plan for regional transportation priorities.  TIDs have local, state and federal transportation funding sources upon which they can access. 

TIDs can benefit from Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) funding. ODOT is now accepting TID funding applications for registered TIDs until May 31, 2021.Last year ODOT received 49 eligible applications for funding. Last year our office awarded $4.5 million in the form of 28 Transportation Improvement District grants.   There are some changes to ODOT’s TID program effective for this year’s applicants. One change is an increase in the overall award amount from a previous max of up-to $250,000 to a new max of up-to $500,000 per applicant. ODOT is also implementing a new scoring criterion, which will score applications based on a 50-point scale. The new scoring criteria will also create cohort scoring, which will allow project applications from similar areas i.e. construction, and planning & design, to be compared with similar project applications. Additionally, this round of funding will also include a weighted scoring component to allow ODOT to evaluate applications with an emphasis on economic benefits, construction cost, and other funding.

Another important funding opportunity is the U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant program provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives. Previously known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary and Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grants, Congress has dedicated nearly $7.9 billion for eleven rounds of National Infrastructure Investments to fund projects that have a significant local or regional impact.   In each competition, U.S. DOT receives hundreds of applications to build and repair critical pieces of our freight and passenger transportation networks. The RAISE program enables DOT to examine these projects on their merits to help ensure that taxpayers are getting the highest value for every dollar invested.  RAISE funding is highly competitive with 680 projects funding out of over 9700 in the previous round. The eligibility requirements of RAISE allow project sponsors at the State and local levels to obtain funding for multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional projects that are more difficult to support through traditional DOT programs. RAISE can fund port and freight rail projects, for example, which play a critical role in our ability to move freight, but have limited sources of Federal funds. RAISE can provide capital funding directly to any public entity, including municipalities, counties, port authorities, tribal governments, MPOs, or others in contrast to traditional Federal programs which provide funding to very specific groups of applicants (mostly State DOTs and transit agencies). This flexibility allows RAISE and our traditional partners at the State and local levels to work directly with a host of entities that own, operate, and maintain much of our transportation infrastructure, but otherwise cannot turn to the Federal government for support.  The U.S. DOT RAISE program has $1 B available in 2021 and the application deadline for TIDs and other entities is July 12, 2021. 

Ohio also offers a source for funding transformational projects in Ohio is the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) which was established in 1997 to help ODOT develop and modify a project selection process which approves funding for the development of and construction of the Major New Capacity Program.  The TRAC defines Major New Capacity projects as those projects greater than $12 million which increase the capacity of a transportation facility or reduce congestion. All projects that cost ODOT greater than $12 million, request Major New funding, and add capacity to a transportation facility must come before the TRAC. This definition includes all new interchanges proposed for economic development or local access, any significant interchange modifications, bypasses, general purpose lane additions, intermodal facilities, major transit facilities, or Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). Projects eligible for TRAC funding typically include capital improvement projects that improve capacity or reduce congestion such as the following: adding an additional lane on a state highway or interstate; adding an additional lane on bridges; new interchanges; new facilities that bypass congested state highways or interstates; new rail lines for public transportation; capital cost for ITS facilities; and intermodal port and rail projects. 4.  Projects that are not eligible for TRAC funding include: widen a road from 10-foot lanes to 12-foot lanes; purchasing buses or other rolling stock; turning lane improvements; resurfacing projects; local road improvements or bridge replacements; or projects with a total project cost under $12 million. TRAC funding applications are due on an annual basis and the council continually evaluates projects for funding. Now is the time to plan for a 2022 TRAC application and TIDs are well positioned to lead those efforts.

These are important funding sources for TIDs this month and into the summer, which present multiple state and federal funding opportunities for Ohio’s TIDs that could define success for the organization and their region in the coming years.