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What California could get from the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill

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While the Build Back Better bill may have stalled in Congress, the federal “bipartisan infrastructure bill,” or BIL, has already been enacted and the money will soon be flowing to all fifty states. This $ 1.2 trillion law will invest in a wide range of projects, including clean water, the internet, roads and bridges, and electric vehicle charging stations.

California will receive significantly more funding than in the past, some in formula (based on population and other factors) and some in the form of competitive grants for projects that meet specific requirements.

For example, federal highway funding formulas are expected to send about $ 29.5 billion (over five years) to California for highways and bridges. California already relies on a lot of federal funds for its highway program, but it’s over forty percent more than it received. Presumably, this will be used for existing programs, including the State Highway Operation and Protection Program and the State Transportation Improvement Program.

While programs paid for by California gasoline taxes are supposed to focus on maintenance needs – SB 1’s “fix first” requirements – these federal funds do not include this restriction (although that the FHA kindly ask the states to invest these large amounts of money wisely).

There is about $ 110 billion available for highways and bridges nationwide, which pretty much dwarfs all other funding. However, there is money for safe and sustainable transport investments in BIL. Some will come from competitive, new and expanded grant programs, and some will be distributed according to the existing formula to states based on population and other requirements.

Details on the new programs are still being worked out, but below is a brief rundown of what is known so far.

Safe street for all
Details on this $ 6 billion program are scarce, although there are plenty of suggestions from advocates.

This is a new competitive grant program aimed at local and tribal governments to “support efforts to advance Vision Zero plans and other improvements aimed at reducing accidents and fatalities, especially for cyclists. and pedestrians ”. Given that California has years of experience developing its active transportation program and has clearly demonstrated that the state cannot meet demand unless it increases funding levels for the program, the state is likely to be a serious contender for the money in this program.

The California Transportation Commission has already made a request to the state legislature for an additional $ 2 billion as a one-time boost for ATP, and has made plans on how to deploy it (the first would likely be to award grants to projects that performed well in the most recent application round but did not secure funding; another idea has been to develop regional ‘cycle highways’ to allow safe travel. cycling over longer distances). In any case, California is in a good position to be able to deploy grants for this type of safety improvement fairly quickly.

Road safety programs

California is expected to receive $ 179 million (over 5 years) under the “Section 402 funding formula for road safety programs, which help states improve driver behavior and reduce fatalities and injuries. motor vehicle accident injuries ”. This is an increase of approximately 29% from previous allocations.

California’s Section 402 funding formula goes through the Office of Traffic Safety, which provides grants to police departments, community organizations, and local jurisdictions for various programs to improve safety. These include community safety assessments, bicycle education programs, and advertising campaigns – which typically deliver a ‘shared responsibility’ message that places equal responsibility for safety on those who walk, ride bikes and drive two ton guns.

You might think OTS would make pedestrians safer during Safety Month in California.  You would be wrong.  Image via OTS website
You might think OTS would make pedestrians safer during Safety Month in California. You would be wrong. Image via OTS website

The OTS also relies on a supposed correlation between police enforcement and increased security, calling this a “data-driven” approach. But at least one of its grant programs, for “bike and pedestrian safety,” goes to police departments statewide with few requirements other than reporting the number of tickets police have issued in. the framework of the grant. Police departments typically issue standard press releases when they are about to launch these enforcement programs, and many go to great lengths to ensure that they issue an equal number of tickets to cyclists, motorists and to pedestrians.

This has led to “unexpected” results, like cops lining the city of Berkeley’s cycle boulevards to give tickets to cautious cyclists who don’t stop completely – thus discouraging cycling without making a change. noticeable in terms of safety.

What if OTS could use some of this new funding to take a closer look at which programs actually improve safety – and if current law enforcement grants are making a difference?

Despite this emphasis on enforcement, note that federal rules prohibit these Section 402 funds from being spent “for the implementation of automated enforcement programs,” which have been shown to increase security and, ultimately, increase security. they are done well, can remove the possibility of biased policing. .

NHTSA has already announced the release of $ 133 million for Section 402 formula funds, with an additional $ 123 million for priority national incentive programs. These include money for: drunk driving countermeasures, road safety information systems and accident databases, seat belt education and enforcement safety, distracted driving prevention, motorcycle safety – and $ 6.6 million for pedestrian and cyclist safety programs.

Public transport

Based on the funding formula alone, California can expect to receive approximately $ 10.3 billion over five years to improve public transportation options across the state. That’s about 37% more than current funding levels, and it’s badly needed, because transit hit a wall during the pandemic – multiple walls, and continued, because it’s a lifeline. for many people.

The funding formula means that it will probably be allocated in the usual way, depending on the agency’s revenues and the population.

Rail will also receive multiple pockets of funding, with $ 22 billion available for Amtrak to work on its maintenance backlog and $ 12 billion for “intercity rail service partnership grants,” which would include high-speed rail. There are also competitive rail subsidies that California could compete for, including $ 5 billion for railroad improvement and safety and $ 3 billion for improved crossing safety.

Other competitive public transit subsidies include the expansion of the current investment subsidy program for new high-capacity transit projects. Several projects in California could qualify to compete for the available $ 23 billion, including Los Angeles Westside Subway, San Diego Mid Coast Corridor Light Rail Project, Corridor Electrification Project. San Carlos Peninsula and San Francisco BART Transbay Core Capacity Projects.

Equity and sustainability

Several new and extended competitive grant programs are included in BIL.

One is $ 15 billion for RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grants. Four grants for California projects just announced, for a network of bike and pedestrian lanes in Yolo County, pedestrian safety improvements and dedicated bus lanes in Oakland, bridge renovations on the island Yerba Buena in the San Francisco Bay Area and a grade drop project in Wasco in preparation for the bullet train there.

Other new competitive grant programs include:

  • MEGA Projects, which has 15 billion dollars for “multimodal and multi-jurisdictional projects of national or regional importance”.
  • Enhancing Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART), which will provide $ 1 billion “to states, local governments and tribes for projects that improve transportation safety and efficiency.”
  • Rural Surface Transport Subsidy Program, with $ 2 billion to “improve and expand surface transport infrastructure in rural areas”.

There is also $ 1 billion for a pilot program called Reconnecting Communities. This aims to remove, modernize or alleviate barriers to physical infrastructure in communities, including highways, level crossings, viaducts and “other major arterial infrastructure serving as barriers”. The program will provide grants for the planning, design, demolition and reconstruction of street, park or other infrastructure networks.


Of course, there is this freeway money in the bill, about eighty percent of the total. Soft “fix first” warnings could help support California’s efforts in this direction – although it is still possible that as California focuses its funding on maintaining the infrastructure it has. already, local jurisdictions can access more funds.

The new leadership of USDOT and NHTSA understands how important it is to redirect investments towards sustainability and safety for all road users, and the leadership of the State of California, both in Caltrans and CalSTA, called for a shift in priorities towards climate-friendly investments. But deep pockets of resistance exist in other state agencies.

And California’s appetite for freeway expansion, even at the expense of homes and bike and foot safety, does not appear to be waning.