The Conference Committee’s released budget (here) has replaced the original Senate budget provision with an annual progress reporting requirement. The original provision would have decimated the NCDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant program by requiring a pay-back of grant funds if projects weren’t implemented in a timeframe over which they had limited control. See here for a previous discussion of the potential impact of the provision, especially on small, rural towns.
We identified the concern – that funding plans that just sit on a shelf without project implement is a waste of tax payer money. We agree and want to see bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure built, not just planned. After speaking with NCDOT staff and with transportation planners across the state, the problem is not the planning grant program. The grant application process is very competitive and the winnowing process ensures that the most motivated and committed localities are accepted into the program. These communities very much want to get projects built and avail of the many benefits of active transportation.
However, the timeframes for all transportation projects is very long and not in the control of the local entity, therefore imposing a six-year implementation window for bicycle and pedestrian projects (and no other mode) is unrealistic and unfair. After developing the plan (typically 2 years for bicycle and pedestrian plans to be developed and adopted by the community), the state prioritization programming process alone can take in typical situations 8 to 15 years, or longer, from the time of project submittal. If the project scores well enough to be funded, the state provides the 20% local funds to match the 80% federal funds for all other transportation modes except bike and pedestrian projects – leaving the local government the added burden (time and financial) to obtain the local match funds.
Therefore, the original provision would have presented a deterrent to communities (a looming financial risk of repaying the grant), especially for small rural communities that most need these planning grant funds. Here is our response to the concern in more detail.
We would like to thank the legislative leadership for listening to us and others to fix this provision. By requiring NCDOT to report annually on project implementation in plans funded by their grant program, we hope to see more focus on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. These projects are typically part of an economic development or safety improvement strategy. The benefit of requiring NCDOT and towns to reflect on their plans at least annually will likely be to better identify barriers to implementation that we can all work together with the legislature to remove.
One obvious barrier is funding for the required local match that is provided by the state pursuant to the state’s Strategic Transportation Investment law for all other modes except bicycle and pedestrian projects. This year’s budget contains an increase in funding for most modes of transportation, much from the General Fund, but does not include an increase for bicycle and pedestrian modes. We are hopeful that this reporting requirement means that the legislature is interested in seeing more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure built and we want to work with them next session to make this happen.