August 19, 2022
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The U.S. Department of Transportation opened the application portal for $1 billion worth of grants through what it dubs the “first-of-its-kind” Reconnecting Communities pilot program.

[Above photo by the USDOT]

Created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021, this new pilot program seeks to help “reconnect” communities previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure.

Photo by the Oregon DOT

“Reconnecting” a community could mean adapting to existing transportation infrastructure – such as building a pedestrian walkway over or under an existing highway – to better connect neighborhoods to opportunities or better means of access such as crosswalks and redesigned intersections, USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

“Transportation can connect us to jobs, services, and loved ones, but we‘ve also seen countless cases around the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or a community because of how it was built,” he explained. “[This is] the first-ever dedicated federal initiative to unify neighborhoods living with the impacts of past infrastructure choices that divided them.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Eligible applicants for the Reconnecting Communities competitive grant pilot program include states, local and tribal governments, metropolitan planning organizations or MPOs, nonprofit organizations, and other transportation facility owners.

Applications for grants through the program’s notice of funding opportunity are due by October 13.

USDOT plans to give preference to applications from “economically disadvantaged communities” for the program’s grants, especially those with projects focused on equity and environmental justice, have strong community engagement and stewardship, and a commitment to shared prosperity and equitable development.

The program also dedicates $50 million of the $195 million in grants available in 2022 to planning activities for communities that may be earlier in the process.

USDOT said it would also be launching its Thriving Communities Initiative to provide technical assistance and hands-on planning support for transformative infrastructure projects that serve disadvantaged communities.

This includes a new DOT Navigator to provide better access to technical assistance programs, as well as a new program to provide capacity-building support to communities.

The agency added that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD is providing complementary technical assistance as part of the Thriving Communities program to improve the coordination of housing and transportation planning to advance residents’ access to opportunity and increase housing supply.

USDOT and HUD plan to issue their notices of funding availability in the fall to select capacity builders.

USDOT also plans to convene a series of stakeholder webinars to help potential applicants gain insight into the Reconnecting Communities program, with the first one scheduled for July 14 at 12 pm EST.

editor@aashto.org

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