“Whither Enhancements?” NY Localities Ask

Transportation Enhancements money was used for part of NYC's Ninth Avenue complete streets redesign.

Local governments in New York are still waiting for the state to distribute tens of millions of dollars from the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, which is primarily used for bicycle and pedestrian projects. The last round of grants came in April 2009, and the last time NYSDOT solicited applications from municipalities and other eligible entities was more than two and a half years ago, in January 2008.

This is actually typical; solicitations are usually announced only every 2 or 3 years. But when Tri-State contacted NYSDOT’s Transportation Enhancements office to find out the timeline for the next round of awards, we were told that it was “currently under discussion internally.”  Sounds like solicitations won’t be announced any time soon.

It’s not even clear how much TE money the state has to give, and state officials did not respond when asked. Since the last round of TE grants, New York has received another $29 million in TE contract authority (the maximum the state is allowed to spend in a federal program) through an extension of the federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU.

States can only spend about 90% of the federal transportation apportionments they receive. States can spread their obligations evenly, funding all federal programs at about 90%, or fully fund some programs while underfunding others. In New York, Transportation Enhancements is one of the programs that suffer.

New York City typically gets short-changed in the distribution of TE funds despite having greater rates of walking and cycling than other parts of the state.  While the State DOT’s Region 11 (NYC) office represents more than 40 percent of the state’s population, it received only 25 percent of TE funds in the last round of awards.  And none of those awards were made under the stimulus act, which offered the advantage of not requiring a match to the federal dollars.

Meanwhile, demand for bicycle and pedestrian projects continues to grow, as evidenced by recently passed Complete Streets policies in communities as different as urban Buffalo and suburban Brookhaven.  Municipal transportation planners need to know when they might expect federal funding to be available so they can meet those demands.

Images: Top — Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Bottom — Surface Transportation Policy Project.

5 Comments on "“Whither Enhancements?” NY Localities Ask"

  1. Glad to see you bring this topic up, as I’ve been wondering where TEP had disappeared to over the last few years. On a related note, do you know what’s happened to the state’s allocation of Safe Routes to School funding? It was all the rage 2-3 years ago but the program has gone dark since 2008, unfortunately. My assumption is that it’s been zero funded due to the lack of a Federal transportation bill, is this correct?

  2. Thanks for your great question James. You are correct that the state is waiting for the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU before it doles out additional SR2S funds: https://www.nysdot.gov/divisions/operating/opdm/local-programs-bureau/srts/applications

    That said, a program of 25 “minigrants” of $1,000 each has just been announced.

  3. I would just like to point out that, at nearly 500,000 inhabitants and a density of 1800 people per square mile, Brookhaven is far from rural. The adjective rural is just barely applicable to some of its eastern hamlets, and the preserved regions of the Pine Barrens.

  4. The state has failed to spend not only TE money but other funds on various bicycle and pedestrian paths and lanes. Some of the projects are at risk of losing the funding due to deadlines being missed due to issues with utilities and other landowners along the route and a clear lack of will among many stakeholders to get the projects done.

  5. Chris – Thank you, of course you are right that Brookhaven is not rural. That was an editing error on my part. I believe I originally referred to a recently passed policy upstate.

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