Active Transportation Funding Cycle 4: Staff Recommendations Revised and Adopted
8:18 AM PST on February 7, 2019
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Last week the California Transportation Commission approved projects to be funded in Cycle 4 of the Active Transportation Program in two categories: the Statewide competition and the Small Urban and Rural group. The lists are largely the same as those published by staff in December, with a few adjustments.
One change was the removal of a project in the city of Compton, which made it possible to offer funding to six other projects. In addition, a project in the city of Avenal was found to have a higher score than originally calculated, which made it eligible for funding. That moved other projects further down the list, and meant that a project in Goleta would not be fully funded under the ATP.
CTC staff said they are committed to working with Goleta to make sure their project can move forward anyway.
As previously reported, this cycle of funding awarded more to larger projects, resulting in fewer overall projects being funded. Whether this is good or bad depends on the quality of the projects themselves--larger projects could potentially have bigger impacts on biking and walking, and could complete larger networks rather than create piecemeal bits of infrastructure. But the smaller number of overall projects does mean that competition for funding, as CTC commissioner Paul Von Konynenberg put it, was "hellacious."
In the original list of recommended statewide awards, the City of Compton qualified for over $22 million for improvements to several stations along the Metro Blue Line, but the city was unable to meet programming conditions by the deadline of January 16 and so had to forfeit the award. Instead, that money was distributed to six other projects that had scored just below the cutoff point.
These changes moved one additional project in the Bay Area onto the recommendation list. In the entire nine-county Bay Area, only a single project had been recommended out of 81 applications submitted from there. Now the ratio is slightly better, but Senator Jim Beall, ex-officio member of the CTC, still expressed concern about geographic inequity in the distribution of awards. He said that "there's great unhappiness about the process and the final allocation among my [Bay Area] colleagues" and implied that the ATP scoring system was not up to snuff, despite the expertise already applied, not to mention the long volunteer hours put in to ensure as objective a score as possible.
It's true that the Bay Area did not do well in this round. But the average score of applications from these nine counties was 68, lower than the overall average of all applications--which was 70--and lower than the average score of applications from SCAG, which was 71. The six-county Southern California region represented by SCAG received the largest number of recommendations for funding--a total of 22 projects--and it submitted 202 applications.
The cutoff score for winning projects was 89, after the staff's changes to the list.
But the relatively small Monterey region actually had the highest success rate. The area submitted fifteen applications, three of which were recommended for funding, a darn good success rate of twenty percent
The numbers highlight just how competitive and underfunded the ATP program is.
This information comes from an analysis of the Cycle 4 awards completed by Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, which reveals some other interesting bits of data. For example, those projects that combined some kind of infrastructure--building bike lanes or paths, sidewalks, bridges, crosswalks, and the like--with a non-infrastructure component--which can include education, encouragement, and enforcement--did better overall. That goes for all three size categories, which were scored and awarded separately.
"It's a best practice which we advocate," Jonathan Matz of Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership told Streetsblog. And it's in part because the projects can't just be tacked together, but "they have to include interagency collaboration and involvement, and they show strong public participation," he said. "It is an encouraging trend."
Matz pointed out that plans also did well in this cycle. There were not that many applications for plans submitted, but 24 percent of those applications did get approved for funding.
As Carlos Rios of the city of Los Angeles pointed out at the CTC meeting, plans are fundamental to being able to apply for future projects--and compete for future funding. "In 2014, the Commission approved a down payment on the city's projects for this cycle," he said, when it approved a Safe Routes to Schools grant for traffic safety plans at fifty schools. "That helped inform the engineering for the projects that just got approved for this cycle," he said.
Of course, those categories received a relatively small amount of the total funding. Almost half--46 percent--of the recommended funding, or $122 million, was for large infrastructure projects, because they are the most expensive item. These include a regionally connected trail in Humboldt County, improvements around Leichty middle and elementary schools in L.A. County, "multi-neighborhood bike and pedestrian improvements" in Pomona, and the Orange Avenue bike improvements in Long Beach, among others.
Another large chunk of funding--almost thirty percent, or $75 million, was for medium infrastructure projects. These include pedestrian safety improvements in Kern County, Metrolink station access in San Bernardino, the Bayshore bikeway in San Diego, and a safety program in Duarte.
CTC staff member Laurie Waters, presenting the list to the commission, pointed out that there are now additional sources of funding for many active transportation projects. According to her, about a thousand projects in the Local Streets and Roads program are either fully active transportation projects or have an active transportation component. "Most of them are things that would have competed for the ATP, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and the like," she said. In addition, 46 of the projects funded by the Local Partnerships Program have some active transportation component, and twelve of them were entirely active transportation.
Both the Local Streets and Roads and the Local Partnerships programs are funded by S.B. 1, the 2017 gas tax increase, and are based on local decisions about how to spend the money.
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