Planning Magazine

7 Ways the New Infrastructure Package Invests in Planning

More than just a highway bill, the legislation is injecting billions of federal dollars into environmental justice, climate action, and local planning efforts. Here’s how it all shakes out.

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The infrastructure act dedicates significant funding to cash-strapped public transit agencies and programs that support more active transportation to help limit carbon emissions. Photo by georgeclerk/ E+ Collection/Getty Images.

After months of negotiations, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on November 5 in a highly anticipated vote. The legislation now heads to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.

The $1.2 trillion package, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), reauthorizes the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) and funds a variety of local planning efforts that reflect recommendations from the American Planning Association's Surface Transportation Policy Guide.

"This is the culmination of years of advocacy work from planners and APA to reform and renew the current surface transportation law, which has more direct impact on local and regional planning than any other federal program," says Jason Jordan, APA's public affairs director.

As expected, the package puts substantial federal dollars — $110 billion — into highway, road, and bridge construction and repair. And while negotiations scaled back or cut some programs lacking bipartisan support, BIF maintains some historic planning investments, like first-of-its-kind funding for climate action. Significantly, it also builds greater local authority and gives more direct resources to city and regional planning organizations.

"With the reforms and investments contained in this landmark legislation, planners will have new tools to provide solutions for the future mobility, safety, equity, and resilience of the places and people they serve," says APA President Leo. R. Asuncion Jr., AICP.

Here are seven of the biggest planning takeaways:

1. FIRST-EVER CLIMATE PROVISIONS

This marks the first time that climate action funding is included in the surface transportation act. With a new $6.4 billion formula and grant funding program for carbon reduction, 65 percent of program funding will go directly to regions and localities.

BIF also fully funds several resiliency and mitigation programs, like the newly authorized Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. Plus, the newly created Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program provides $7.3 billion in funding for resilience and hazard mitigation and $1.4 billion in grants — with $140 million specifically set aside for planning.

2. PLANNING FOR SAFER STREETS

Transportation safety is getting both critical reforms and historically high investments. The safety programs focus specifically on planning, with $400 million for local Vision Zero planning, a new complete streets program, and the creation of a $5 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All safety planning program. The Safe Routes to School program — which encourages students to bike and walk by funding infrastructure improvements, safety education, and other tools — will also be codified and expanded.

3. JUSTICE AND EQUITY

As planners strive to right planning wrongs, they will now be supported with the newly created Reconnecting Communities program, which is aimed at tearing down highway infrastructure that bifurcated communities, particularly communities of color. The program will set aside $1 billion for revitalization work, including $150 million of dedicated planning and community engagement funding. BIF also requires new vulnerability assessments to ensure that planners focus resources and support on low-income and underserved communities.

4. TRANSIT'S BIGGEST INVESTMENT EVER

Transit agencies suffering from pandemic-induced revenue loss could see some relief. Along with reauthorizing existing programs in the surface transportation act for the next five years, the package dedicates $39 billion in new funding to modernize systems, improve accessibility for users with limited mobility, provide new transit options in communities, and add zero-emission vehicles to transit fleets, among other programs and provisions. It also boosts funding for Amtrak and rail projects nationwide. Overall, the White House says this is the federal government's largest investment in public transit to date: more than $89 billion.

5. ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION, TOO

A variety of major advances for planning that support walking and biking are also included. The package reforms the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), the primary federal source of funding for non-motorized surface transportation, with expanded local control, fewer state transfers, more flexibility for local matches, and a 60 percent increase in funding. And the new Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program will see $200 million a year in grants to better connect walking and biking routes with destinations and other transportation options.

6. EMERGING TECH AND CONNECTIVITY

With $5 billion for a new Electric Vehicle Formula Program and $2.5 billion from the Highway Trust Fund for a new competitive grant program, the package aims to create a broader national network of EV charging infrastructure.

It also addresses another connectivity issue: the digital divide. With around 19 million Americans still lacking broadband access, the pandemic has further underscored the importance of reliable, high-speed internet access. The legislation dedicates $65 billion to broadband infrastructure, with $60 million specifically set aside for digital equity plans.

7. EMPOWERING LOCAL PLANNERS

Metropolitan planning organizations will also see an influx of direct financial support, with a 32 percent increase in funding for transportation planning compared to 2020 levels. Smaller regions will now qualify for direct funding, and local planners will gain support for reducing single-occupancy vehicle use with a new $250 million Congestion Relief Program.

A slate of other programs and provisions provide additional support for municipal and regional projects, including $2 billion in grants for rural transportation efforts that increase connectivity, improve safety, and generate economic growth. MPOs will also be eligible for a new pilot program focused on accessibility and connectivity data, modeling, and engagement innovations, plus support to better align transportation, land use, and housing plans. Regional and local planners will also have access to a new $500 million grant program for smart cities technologies.

Brenna Donegan is APA’s senior communications associate. Lindsay Nieman is APA’s senior editor, digital strategy.

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