Tennessee DOT to cover 95 percent of costs for local multimodal access projects

By Chris McCahill
Tennessee DOT recently announced the creation of a $30 million Multimodal Access Fund to support local projects that improve pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access to state routes and transit hubs. As part of the program, TDOT will cover 95 percent of costs for selected local projects not exceeding $1 million. Regional planning associations can submit applications on behalf of local jurisdictions, which must match the remaining 5 percent for individual projects. A handful of states have implemented new mechanisms for funding multimodal projects in light of insufficient federal funds, but Tennessee’s dedication of existing revenues shows a unique commitment to providing transportation choices in the state.
The funds will cover a range of projects including bicycle and pedestrian facilities, bus shelters, traffic calming measures, park-and-ride facilities, and bus turnouts. Eligible costs include the scoping and design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction for these types of projects. A number of states already have complete streets policies requiring similar considerations for bicycles and pedestrians in conjunction with highway projects, and some also set aside funds for this purpose (commonly 1 percent). The TDOT program is unique in that it will fund a variety of multimodal projects not necessarily within the agency’s rights-of-way nor managed by the agency itself. Project sponsors may have the option of choosing a qualified local project manager and contracting with TDOT as a consultant. In order for projects to be competitive, they should enhance multimodal connectivity, conform to state or local plans, and support economic development.
The program reportedly has faced resistance from some road users—particularly the Owner Operator Independent Drivers national trucking association—who object to the use of state gas tax revenue for purposes other than highways and bridges. TDOT stands by its program, recognizing that “last-mile” connections are critical to the performance of its system and to the future success of cities and towns. The agency also recognizes that communities lack sufficient access to federal funding for making these types of improvements.  Applications for the first round of funding are due by December 2013, and the program will last three years.
Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.