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You Did It! NJ DOT Saves Millions In Federal Funding After Letter-Writing Campaign

An early mock-up of the Delaware River Heritage Trail along the Kinkora RR alignment. in Florence Township NJ

Earlier this year, Bicycle Coalition members in New Jersey took some time out to contact their elected officials about the millions of dollars in federal Transportation Alternatives money the New Jersey Department of Transportation was about to give back to the federal government. Our members sent hundreds of emails out to elected officials all over the Garden State, including Governor Murphy, demanding the state keep the money, and use it.

And the result? A complete 180: NJDOT went from the brink of giving back more than $10 million to finding a way to save 100% of it, as well as adding new funding!

This is, easily our biggest win in New Jersey since getting the Ben Franklin Bridge ramp approved. And it’s all thanks to you.

Here’s how it worked:

In a letter to BCGP Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart, New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Deputy Commissioner Mike Russo reported that “NJDOT authorized $23 million in Transportation Alternatives (TA) for 31 projects in Federal Fiscal Year 2018 which ended September 30th. And that no prior year TA apportionments lapsed in 2018.”

This was also confirmed in a press release issued on March 26th.

Of that $23 million, $2.3 million went to Safe Routes to Schools projects. Another $2.2 million went to the Transportation Management Associations that operate the Safe Routes To Schools Program and $18.6 million went to TA set aside projects.

Federal funds for TA  projects go like all federal aid goes through a process before it can be spent at the local level.

Award – Projects selected by local transportation officials for TA funding, this is usually a competitive process (here is an example). Award dollar amounts are often estimates of what it will cost to complete that phase of a project.
Obligation – is a commitment by the federal government to reimburse the state for the federal share of a project’s eligible costs. An obligation occurs when an agreement is executed between the federal government and the state.
Authorization -Is an approval to distribute, spend, loan, or obligate funds. Once authorization is granted, project managers can begin the next phase of their TA project which is either design or construction.
Apportionment – This the amount that is allocated by Congress to spend on TA projects.  Under current law states have three years to obligate funds to projects or the apportionment lapses. This was the issue that threatened TA funding.

We want to thank NJ DOT’s Deputy Commissioner Mike Russo and the staff at the agency’s Local Aid and Economic Development Office for saving millions of dollars from going back to Washington and taking further action to provide the tools that communities need to navigate the federal funding process.

Our campaign partners Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director of the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition and Janna Chernetz, NJ Legislative Director the Tri-State Transportation Campaign were the leaders in the effort to save Transportation Alternatives funds. Also thanks to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy who actively campaigned with us to save funding.

But most of all we want to thank those of you who took the time to write to the decision makers. 128 people sent letters to Governor Murphy, Lt Governor Oliver, DOT Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti, their State Senators and Assemblypersons. Several campaign participants reported that they received supporting letters from elected officials who inquired about the possible lapse in TA funding.

The 130 Bypass project, a segment of the Delaware River Heritage Trail has been authorized 8.5 Million Dollars, making it the largest project awarded in 2018. Other projects in the region include the construction of the Washington Township to the Monroe Township bikeway (which will be a combination of bike lanes and shared use paths), the Merchantville Pennsauken Trail extension to Chestnut Street in Pennsauken,

As you can see on this chart there is still the potential to lose millions of dollars over the next few years. Fortunately thanks to your efforts and NJ DOT’s focus on moving funds we have a head start.

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Topics: Action Center, Biking the Suburbs, Connecting Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Network, Featured, The Circuit

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