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.