Transport officials must weigh equity and accessibility in funding

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Before allocating federal funds, US transportation officials will look for projects that provide better access for people, especially in disadvantaged communities.

Echoing President Joe Biden’s theme of promoting fairness, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his leadership team revealed in a May 25 webinar how the U.S. Department of Transportation is changing its views and execution programs.

“There has always been a connection between America’s pursuit of racial and economic justice and the way people and goods move in this country,” Buttigieg told 1,400 attendees of the DOT’s briefing session on the transport equity.

The DOT and 90 federal agencies released equity action plans on April 14, the same day the White House issued a statement acknowledging the importance of the plans to remove systemic barriers in federal programs and policies. that hinder the progress of underserved communities. The plans were a continuation of Biden’s Executive Order 13985: Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government. Signed on January 20, 2021, the order called on the federal government to allocate its resources to advance equity and opportunity.

Buttigieg said the DOT and the administration are committed to building a better transportation system for everyone in the country, while referencing Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure act.

“We need to be very intentional about this in our moment of building, building and renewing because physical infrastructure lasts for decades and whatever good or bad it might do will be with us for a very long time,” he said. Buttigieg points out. .

He called the DOT’s equity action plan a major milestone that forms a foundation “for how we think about and deliver transportation programs,” including historic generational investments made through BIL.

Irene Marion, DOT civil rights director and discussion moderator, said the plan focuses on four areas of equity: wealth creation, community empowerment, interventions, and expanding access. . Other panelists included Stephanie Pollack, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Transportation Secretary; Nuria Fernandez, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration; Shelby Scales, Director of the Office of Small Business and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and Christopher Coes, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy.

“There’s a disconnect between the opportunities everyone seeks and deserves and how our transportation connects people to opportunity,” Pollack noted.

The FHWA now includes in its criteria for awarding discretionary grants the amount of a project that will provide transportation access for people.

“Whether it’s for bridges or safe streets and roads, or for reconnecting communities, we’re asking our applicants to talk about how the grant they’re seeking will expand access to opportunity, and we’ll give lots of importance to these discretionary grants. “Pollack said.

Yellow place

Because rural and tribal communities often lack the staff and technical expertise to apply for complicated federal transportation grants, DOT makes special efforts to promote equitable access.

Coes said DOT will soon launch a “thriving communities” initiative to provide communities with direct and coordinated technical assistance at all stages of a project’s lifecycle to ensure they can access federal funds. and carry out infrastructure projects.

Other DOT initiatives in the coming months will be an online technical assistance center, new grant application, program toolkits, and a rural and tribal technical assistance pilot project.

“Each of these services and programs will provide experts in project funding, community engagement as well as the support of a network of technical assistance providers across the country who will be ready to support disadvantaged and underserved communities,” said noted Coes.

Christopher Coes

Coes

As an example of tailored assistance, he cited the DOT’s website and online toolkit in its Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) initiative as “our one-stop shop for rural communities seeking service. at the departmental level [web] browser to support technical assistance.

Pollack said FHWA is committed to helping applicants obtain grants and complete projects with the help of state highway division offices and other local technical assistance programs.

Trottenberg noted that the DOT aims to offer programs especially to low-income and disadvantaged communities “that haven’t benefited from those federal dollars” to help them compete and win funds as well as build and operate businesses. successful projects.