November 2010

Federal grants make the business case for sustainability

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

The Obama administration, through some federal agencies fairly unknown to public transportation as well as traditional ones, announced a slew of new grants. For those who wondered whether the sustainability initiatives launched last year would make any difference, we are beginning to get encouraging answers.

This past October alone, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) announced its latest round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. Of the 42 capital construction projects and 33 planning projects announced, most of them will involve sustainability-related aspects. These grants help fund investments and plans in 40 states.

The total funding announced for TIGER infrastructure projects is more than $500 million - and that's just the federal share. Examples include grants to build new streetcar lines in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

For the planning grants, 14 of the winners received not just TIGER grants but, also, Sustainable Community Challenge Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is not just a coincidence. In fact, it is part of the sustainability partnership strategy announced last year. In this round of HUD Challenge grants, DOT and HUD, with assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency and, in many cases even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, jointly evaluated planning grant applications. For example, the planning grant awarded to University City, Mo., a suburb of Saint Louis, would help create better connections to the light rail system as well as energy efficient affordable housing.

In addition to the Challenge grants, HUD also announced about that time an additional $100 million funding for sustainability plans. Of that, $25 million was given to smaller regions and rural areas.

New ammunition

For those who worry that this strategy may not play well in the next Congress, when 70 or more members will be new regardless of who takes over, you now have some new ammunition. Several studies have come out showing that both developers and their potential customers are increasingly demanding walkable transit-accessible neighborhoods. This is because of a variety of factors, including population growth; lower crime rates in inner cities; declining proportion of households with kids; and preferences among both older and younger Americans who want to live in more walkable places with quality restaurants, health care facilities, bars and night clubs, museums, sports stadiums and other cultural institutions — in short, the things cities are likely to offer.

In other words, both businesses and the public get it. We need to make sure that our elected officials do, too, especially the new ones.

 


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