After months of deliberation and debate, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed by the House of Representatives on November 5, 2021. What does this mean for state and local agencies, and what should they be thinking about now that it’s in motion?
Read on for some specific areas of interest in the package, and our top suggestions for remaining competitive with grant selection.
Emerging Technologies in the Infrastructure Bill
In addition to traditional infrastructure spending such as bridges and roads, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package authorizes funding for various forms of emerging technologies, many of which come together under a broad and diversified SMART grant.
SMART Grant Program
The package allocates $500 million over five years to the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant Program (Section 25005). This program will support the planning and construction phases of smart technology projects. While the previous Smart City Challenge of 2016 focused on the needs of mid-sized cities, the SMART Grant Program proposes to split grant funds between large, mid-sized, and rural communities.
Electric Vehicles in the Infrastructure Package
To date, the majority of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure has been provided by private interest. Through the recently passed bill, grants for charging and fueling infrastructure will be distributed to private/public partnerships. It’s noteworthy that $7.5 billion is set aside for EV charging and fueling infrastructure. Each state will be responsible for submitting a plan for their own infrastructure (scroll to the “top tips” section of this article for our advice on how to seek EV funding strategically). Ask us about the work we’ve done for Oregon Department of Transportation’s Transportation Electrification Infrastructure Needs Analysis or for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) supporting the New York State Clean Transportation Roadmap to identify policies and programs that improve systems efficiency and manage VMT.
Automated Vehicles in the Infrastructure Package
In addition to automated vehicle program funding under SMART Grants, the infrastructure bill introduces a study on the impacts of self-driving vehicles to transportation capacity, flow, mobility, the environment, and safety in both rural and urban communities. This study will look at previous studies, such as our pooled fund study with 10 DOTs to measure capacity impacts of CAVs, and bring them together to determine what it all means for our roads.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
Have you driven a vehicle that has advanced driver assistance systems, such as forward collision warning? The infrastructure bill calls upon the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop minimum performance standards for advanced crash avoidance technology on light and heavy vehicles. For light vehicles, these technologies include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist (Section 24208). For heavy vehicles, the technologies include forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. (Did you know that our own Abby Morgan developed NHTSA’s initial policies for these technologies?)
Additional Transportation Grant Programs
The infrastructure package includes funding for many additional transportation programs, such as:
- Reconnecting communities: the funding describe in Section 11509 carries opportunities for all communities and is dedicated to studying, planning, and implementing the removal, retrofitting, or mitigation of existing facilities that create barriers to community connectivity.
- Active transportation investments: Section 11529 introduces the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which will provide grants for the construction of safe and connected active transportation facilities. This program will fund projects that provide substantial for walking and bicycling, have community support, advance safety, and keep equity front and center.
- Bollard Installation Project: Section 11502 funding specifically allocated to installing bollards on sidewalks adjacent to roadways to better protect pedestrians. The Federal funding can cover up to 100% of the installation costs.
- Incorporating vulnerable road users in CV technology: Section 24219 outlines vehicle-to-pedestrian research efforts focused on incorporating vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists into the connected vehicle network.
- Broadband expansion: the bill allocated $42.5 billion for broadband deployment with a minimum of $100 million going to each state. This builds on previous work such as the Fiber Readiness Plan we conducted for the San Joaquin Council of Governments, identifying key transportation corridors that would benefit from extended fiber optics to support advanced transportation systems, and developing best practices for expanding municipal fiber networks.
- Cybersecurity coordination: cybersecurity is, historically, a field that did not affect the transportation network. With new technologies being used on the road that have cybersecurity vulnerabilities, the bill describes how the federal government will develop a framework and tool to assist transportation agencies in identifying, detecting, protecting against, responding to, and recovering from cyber incidents.
- Highway Safety Improvement Program: Section 11111 updates the definition of a “highway safety improvement project” to allow multimodal roundabouts to be considered an intersection safety improvement.
Top Tips for Agencies Applying for Funding
In light of these (and many other) programs that will come to life under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, here are a few thoughts about how agencies can begin planning to secure funding.
1. Start laying the groundwork now. Although there is still a waiting period before USDOT and its modal agencies will accept grant applications, the value of pre-positioning work cannot be overstated. A great example of this is North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), who is building a strong foundation for an automated vehicle program. We have been working with NCTCOG to help them assess their region’s future mobility needs while broadening agency and community understanding of opportunities with emerging technologies. This work sets their local agencies up well to go after federal funding when it becomes available. Another example is the community of Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, which was able to position their plans for an entire mobility network to be eligible for $45M in BUILD grant funding.
2. Understand the challenges your community is facing. It’s easy to get caught up in the programs and technologies, but it’s crucial that any application you deploy directly addresses your community’s needs. Don’t look for a problem to justify the solution. The infrastructure package offers opportunities for organizations of all sizes. Oregon Department of Transportation offers a recent example of right-sizing problem solving through their Transportation Electrification Infrastructure Needs Analysis, which included a study of charging needs specific to Oregon’s rural communities.
3. Take a balanced approach to building relationships. A true smart city deployment will not be effective if it is siloed, but it’s also important to be very thoughtful in building a team. It’s possible to have too many partners, and this can create distractions or lock you into solutions that don’t actually solve your local needs. Rather, pick the right partners, which can involve public/private partnerships as well as new inter-agency partnerships, such as partnerships between Departments of Transportation and Departments of Energy.
4. Put the public agency in the driver’s seat of this team. Specifically, find a champion from that agency who will keep the work centered around the needs of the community.
5. Plan with an eye toward the future. If you’re looking to go after EV funding, think about how your charging and fueling locations will not only support immediate EV needs, but also future technologies to make the most of the investment (like micromobility, delivery bots, or electric trucks).
6. Build resiliency into your plan from the start. How will charging infrastructure impact the experience of evacuating in an electric vehicle? How will projects funded by the SMART Grant Program contribute to making your community more resilient? Centering resiliency in your plan at the planning stage will make your programs more attractive for grant selection, and your solutions more sustainable.
7. Finally, learn from history. All new technology has the potential to divide communities rather than unite them, and our profession is full of examples to prove it. Prioritize equity in your planning so that new technologies don’t become new barriers.
The infrastructure package offers tremendous opportunity to public agencies at all levels. To talk further about any of the ideas in this article, or to discuss how your organization can make the most of the opportunity, we invite you to reach out to any one of us: