USDOT Streamlines Community Infrastructure Programs

The U.S. Department of Transportation is now taking applications for its newly streamlined Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods or RCN program, which now combines two different grant programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022.

[Above photo by the USDOT]

The agency noted in a statement that its “streamlining” efforts are designed to make it easier to submit an application and increase opportunity for communities that are seeking funding for projects that address harm from past infrastructure planning decisions, accelerate equitable community revitalization, and improve access to everyday destinations.

The Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, established by the IIJA, helps fund community-led projects that mitigate physical barriers to mobility and access, such as train tracks or highways. Meanwhile, the Inflation Reduction Act established the Neighborhood Access and Equity Program that funds projects along the same lines – ones that remove physical barriers as well as projects to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access; particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities.  

The combined notice of funding opportunity for both programs follows the model that USDOT established for its Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant Program, which combines funding opportunities for the Mega, Rural, and INFRA grant programs.

Some $198 million is available for grants through the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, with $148 million reserved for Capital Construction Grant funds and $50 million set aside for Community Planning Grants, including funding for technical assistance. Meanwhile, more than $3.1 billion is available for grants through the Neighborhood Access and Equity Program, with USDOT expecting to issue $135 million to Community Planning Grants, $2.57 billion to Capital Construction Grants, and $450 million to Regional Partnerships Challenge Grants, designed to incentivize regions to come together to leverage both federal, state, and regional funding and policies to tackle problems.

In March, USDOT awarded $185 million to 45 communities as part of its Reconnecting Communities Program, including six Capital Construction grants and 39 Community Planning grants – money that funded construction and planning for transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks, filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined Complete Streets, and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels and trails.

Later this summer, the agency said it expects to launch the new Reconnecting Communities Institute to provide communities and potential applicants with technical assistance.

In addition to its funding availability announcement, USDOT noted that it has entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to coordinate technical assistance efforts to plan and build infrastructure that reconnects and improves access, especially for marginalized communities.

Working with philanthropic organizations like RWJF leverages additional resources and enables support to more communities and organizations that are working to provide people with better mobility options to facilitate community revitalization, catalyze equitable development and create access to more economic opportunities, the agency noted.

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