Successfully Applying for Act 89 Municipal Transportation Grants

This January, Pennsylvania is celebrating the second anniversary of Act 89’s implementation. Thanks to this innovative legislation, local governments today receive more liquid fuels money than they would have under the previous system and have access to several new grant programs.  Still, many local officials are not sure how to access these additional funds or maximize their use for the greatest possible benefit.  HRG has some tips to help municipalities make the most of act 89 transportation funding.

What money is available to local governments through Act 89?

Municipalities should already have seen an increase in their liquid fuels disbursements and will continue to receive additional funding for the next several years as the Act 89 funding continues to ramp up until fully funded in 2018. By 2018, municipalities will see an increase in Liquid Fuels Tax Distributions of approximately 70% over 2013 levels. In addition to the liquid fuels funding, the legislation offers several other options for additional transportation funding:

  • Green Light Go grants
  • Multi-Modal Fund grants
  • Low Volume Roads and Dirt and Gravel Road Funding Increases

Signalization Upgrade for the City of Harrisburg

Green Light Go Grants
Green Light Go grants are competitive grants available for traffic signal improvements designed to enhance safety, reduce congestion, and improve transportation efficiency.  Municipalities can apply for these funds on a wide variety of projects, including:

  • The study and removal of unwanted signals
  • Traffic signal retiming
  • LED replacement
  • Asset management of a traffic signal system
  • Real-time monitoring of traffic signal operations
  • Traffic signal maintenance
  • Innovative technologies (like adapative signals)
  • Communications
  • Connections back to the Traffic Management Center
  • Detection upgrades
  • Controller upgrades
  • Modernization upgrades
  • ITS applications
  • Development of detour, special event, and operations plans.

Municipalities must be able to provide a 20% local match to be eligible for the funding.

Steelton Streetscape

Multi-Modal Fund Grants
The PennDOT and Commonwealth Financing Authority Multi-Modal Grant Programs were designed to support projects that promote alternative modes of transportation (like bike and pedestrian trails, rail, aviation, and transit) as well as improvements to smaller, local roadways that might not otherwise receive funding (since federal funding prioritizes highway improvements over other modes of transportation).  This competitive grant program funds projects such as:

  • Bus stops
  • Park and ride facilities
  • Sidewalks and crosswalks
  • Bicycle lanes
  • Local roads and bridges, including
    • Intersection reconfiguration
    • New lane construction
    • New roadway construction
  • Streetscapes
  • Lighting
  • Pedestrian safety enhancements
  • Signage and pavement marking

Again, municipalities must have at least a 30% local funding match in order to be considered for the grant. (More information on applying for Multi-Modal Fund grants is available in this article.)

Funding Increases for the Low Volume Roads/Dirt and Gravel Road Program
In addition to these new grant programs, Act 89 provides increased funding for the existing Dirt and Gravel/Low-Volume Road Program.  Grant moneys have increased from $8 million per year to $28 million per year under Act 89.  This money is distributed by local county conservation districts for the maintenance of low-volume dirt and gravel roadways.

How do local governments position themselves for Act 89 funding?

All of the programs listed above are competitive grant programs. In order to be selected for an award, grant applications must show the importance of the project to the community and the planning behind the project. This is why communities with a transportation asset management program have a competitive edge in these competitions.

A good asset management program:

  • collects data about the condition of a municipality’s roadways, bridges, traffic signs and signals;
  • identifies the appropriate type and timing of maintenance, restoration, or replacement measures; and
  • ranks those needs based on the condition of the infrastructure and its function in the community. (i.e. How disruptive would the impact be if this infrastructure failed?)

When the asset management plan is augmented with planning-level cost estimates, the result is an excellent tool that provides a forward-looking capital improvement program.

In essence, a good asset management and capital improvement plan helps a municipality identify what improvements are most needed in its transportation network and what resources will be needed to complete those improvements. It also helps them proactively plan for the maintenance of those improvements over the long-term.

This is important to PennDOT because it is making an investment in the municipality with these grants, and it wants to be sure that investment will provide a return. Officials do not want to allocate money toward a project that will run into a financial roadblock or permitting issue and eventually be tabled. They want ample information to demonstrate that the municipality has a plan for getting the project designed and built: the kind of information one acquires from an asset management and capital improvement plan.

Essentially, in order to obtain Act 89 grants, a municipality has to be able to:

  • Demonstrate they can provide the matching funds to get a project completed.
  • Provide reasons why the project is important to the transportation network on a local municipal (and even better: regional) level.
  • Submit plans and cost estimates that show exactly what will be needed to get the project through construction.
  • Prove that they will be able to maintain the project after it is built.

One of the best way to develop this information is to establish an asset management and capital improvement program.

Even if a municipality is not looking to seek grant funds, an asset management and capital improvement plan still makes sense because it will help them identify the best use for the increased liquid fuels funds they will be receiving automatically in order to ensure those dollars provide the maximum return on investment for their community.

(See HRG’s related articles on transportation asset management: Better Roads for Less Money with Asset Management and Positioning Yourself for Grant Funding with an Asset Management/Capital Improvement Plan.)

Over the past two years, Act 89 has succeeded in providing new revenue for transportation projects across Pennsylvania and has provided funding for alternative modes of transportation (such as bike and pedestrian path projects, more walkable communities, rail and transit improvements, etc.) as well as smaller (even rural, low-volume) roadway improvements that typically get ignored by federal funding initiatives. It has created new grant sources and enhanced efficiencies by bundling similar projects together.

As a result, hundreds of projects that never would’ve seen the light of day have become a reality, reducing congestion and improving the safety of our drivers while providing new economic opportunity. (Click here to see a map of projects completed as a result of the increased transportation funding provided by Act 89.)

Thanks to increased transportation funding in Pennsylvania, municipalities will receive increased liquid fuels fund distributions and are eligible to apply for new grant opportunities.

In order to make the most of these opportunities, municipalities should work with an engineer to implement an asset management and capital improvement program that helps them identify projects for grant opportunities and provide the level of detail needed for a successful grant application. Ideally, a municipality will want to work with an engineering firm that has ample expertise in transportation design as well as ample financial planning and grant administration experience.

Even those municipalities who choose not to seek Act 89 grant funding can use an asset management and capital improvement program to ensure they make the wisest use of their increased liquid fuels disbursements.

For more information on how your municipality can position itself for Act 89 transportation funds and/or implement an asset management and capital improvement program, please contact Brian Emberg, P.E., Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.


Transportation Funding for Municipalities: Act 89 Multi-Modal Grants

Steelton Stretscape

In two previous articles, HRG examined how municipalities can stop speeding on local streets with traffic calming programs (See: Stop Speeding in Your Neighborhood and Reduce Speeding with Traffic Control Techniques). For many communities, lack of transportation funding may be an obstacle to getting the necessary projects built, so we’d like to highlight one funding program to help make traffic calming improvements more affordable: PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund Program.

What is PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund Grant Program?

Under the most recent authorization, federal transportation funding has placed a higher priority on improving major highways, leaving many local roads and alternative modes of transportation (like biking or transit) under-funded.  To remedy this, Pennsylvania used its Act 89 funds to create the Multi-Modal Grant Program. Under this program, money is specifically earmarked for improving transportation and access via alternative modes such as:

  • Biking and pedestrian facilities
  • Ports
  • Rail
  • Aviation
  • Transit

But Multi-Modal funds can also be used for a wide variety of local roadway and intersection improvements, as well, including paving, traffic signalization, and realignments, etc.

As PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said in a recent press release for the program, the Multi-Modal Fund “allows [PennDOT] to assist communities with needed transportation improvements that otherwise may not move forward.”

What types of projects are eligible for this transportation funding?

PennDOT lists many types of projects as eligible for Multi-Modal grants:

  • Bus stops
  • Park and ride facilities
  • Sidewalks and crosswalks
  • Bicycle lanes
  • Local roads and bridges
  • Streetscapes
  • Lighting
  • Pedestrian safety enhancements
  • Signage

Looking at the grant recipients in the previous two application cycles, we can see a wide variety of projects have been selected for grants, including:

  • Intersection reconfiguration
  • Construction of additional lanes
  • Equipment purchases for a pavement marking program
  • New roadway construction
  • Biking and pedestrian trail construction and improvement
  • Noise mitigation along railroad tracks
  • Parking structure improvements
  • New school zone signage and pedestrian tunnel construction near a public high school

With an emphasis on alternative transportation modes such as biking and walking, Multi-Modal Funds have been a great fit for communities implementing improvements geared toward traffic calming and enhanced pedestrian safety.

In the last grant cycle, PennDOT awarded more than $1 million for a project in Factoryville and La Plume, Lackawanna County, that includes improvements to pedestrian safety, traffic calming, and the streetscape.  They also provided almost $500,000 to Homer City Borough, Indiana County, for new ADA-compliant sidewalks and curb ramps, stamped concrete crosswalks, and similar improvements.  In addition, they provided more than $100,000 to Northampton Township, Bucks County, for decorative imprint asphalt crosswalks, curb ramps, and sidewalk improvements. 

What criteria is used to select grant recipients?

PennDOT lists the following as its selection criteria for awarding Multi-Modal Grants:

  • The project area’s economic conditions.
  • Consistency with planning on a local, regional, and statewide level.
  • “Benefits to safety, mobility, economic competitiveness, and transportation system integration.” (Being able to specifically cite the number and quality of jobs the project would create or preserve gives a project greater consideration.)
  • The “technical and financial feasibility of the project.”

(i.e. Does the application show the municipality has a clear plan for getting the project built [including land acquisition and permitting issues] and providing its required portion of the financing?

Municipalities that can provide more than 30% of the project’s financing are given preference, based on the degree to which they can provide additional matching funds.)

  • The regional benefits of a project.
  • “Project readiness.”
  • “Energy efficiency.”
  • “Operational sustainability over the long term.”
  • “Multi-modal nature of the project.”

Municipalities would be wise to work with a consulting engineer who has knowledge of the program and can carefully craft the application to meet these selection criteria.  That being said, the broader the reach a project has (regional or statewide benefits versus local), the more it will improve the economy, and the more prepared a municipality is to complete it – technically and financially – the better chance a project has of receiving funds. 

How much money is awarded?

Grant amounts vary based on the size of the project, but, according to PennDOT, they would not normally exceed $3 million for any one project. (At least one project in the City of Harrisburg did in the 2014 cycle, however, topping out at $3, 191,000.)

Over the past several grant cycles, awards have been as small as $11,000 with a few in the $2-3 million range.

Grant recipients must provide a local match equal to at least 30% of the total project cost.  These local funds can come from Liquid Fuels tax and Act 13 impact fees if the project is an eligible use of those funds. 

How do you apply?

A municipality interested in applying for a Multi-Modal Program Grant should speak with an engineer who knows the program well.  Crafting a successful grant application starts in the earliest phases of project planning and design.  In addition to the application form, municipalities must submit detailed cost estimates prepared by an engineer; a color-coded map of the project area; a list of all local, state, and federal permits the project will require; and a variety of other documents related to their finances.

The PennDOT Multi-Modal Fund grant program is a great option for communities looking to reduce speeding and enhance pedestrian safety through traffic calming techniques like raised crosswalks, curb cuts, etc.  Several communities around the state have, in fact, already been awarded thousands of dollars for these types of projects.  With a focus on enhancing transportation access beyond our state highways, this fund can be useful for many other projects, too, such as local road and bridge improvements, widening, and realignment as well as pavement rehabilitation programs.

If you would like more information on how Multi-Modal grants could benefit your municipality, contact Brian Emberg, P.E., our Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.


Act 89 of 2013 Executive Summary


On November 25, 2013, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed and Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Act 89 of 2013. Act 89 generates $2.3 to $2.4 billion by fiscal year 2017-2018 and reoccurring annually thereafter:

  • Provides a long-term funding solution for all levels of Pennsylvania transportation providers and local Government
  • Includes funding for all aspects of transportation

Challenge: New funding landscape introduces new challenges for local government, including:

  • Understanding the Legislation and Identifying which programs a Municipality is eligible to access
  • Planning for expenditures

Solution: To ensure the most efficient use of the new funding, every municipality should invest in:

  • Transportation Asset Management (TAM)
  • Capital Improvement Planning (CIP)
  • Grantsmanship

Conclusion: HRG has been helping municipalities for almost 50 years to plan, procure, and deliver projects. Our experienced team has a unique advantage over many in our industry; we understand that without proper funding even the best designs stay on paper and are not implemented. This understanding led to HRG developing and staffing a separate financial services group dedicated to helping our clients compete and WIN funding for their projects. From project concept, to design, funding and construction, HRG has the experience and knowledge to take an idea and deliver a real world project.

Contact Brian Emberg, P.E., for more information about obtaining Act 89 funds.