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Federal Infrastructure Funding Has Officials Weighing Projects

The new infrastructure bill has transportation and transit agencies thinking about which projects to prioritize to advance cleaner and more efficient transportation systems for the next several decades.

A bridge being built.
Bus signal priority, dedicated transit lanes and rethinking urban and community design are just some of the initiatives that could be funded with federal infrastructure money in the next five years.

Much has already been said about how much money will be made available by the new infrastructure bill — $1.2 trillion — and how much is earmarked for which sectors, whether it’s ports, rail, transit or roads. But transportation officials and industry watchers are now giving some thought to what should be prioritized to truly make transportation more environmentally sustainable, more modern and more equitable.

“It’s overdue, and it’s not enough, but the fact that it’s here, our approach is to lean in and go for it,” is the way Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of L.A. Metro, described the arrival of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the CoMotion LA conference earlier this month.

“With this type of investment, we can demonstrate to the federal government why this should continue, and this should not be a one-time thing. So, our vision is the long game,” Wiggins added.

The projects, said Ryan Westrom, head of mobility engagement at City Solutions, a division of Ford Mobility, should focus on smart infrastructure and electrification. Think about transit signal priority, technology that gives transit vehicles special priority at signalized intersections, helping the vehicles maintain schedule times. Also, consider bus-only lanes — again, allowing buses to whiz through congestion.

These projects have proven to be effective and should be expanded, said Westrom in a recent panel discussion organized by TransLoc, a transportation technology company owned by Ford.

“These are tools that can allow transit agencies to provide a more reliable bus service,” said Westrom.

When it comes to electrifying fleets of transit vehicles, that momentum has already taken off. About 20 percent of the public transit fleet is already electric, and 60 percent of transit fleets are considered “clean fuels” vehicles, when factoring in natural gas, said Art Guzzetti, vice president for policy and mobility at the American Public Transportation Association.

One of the biggest impacts transit can provide is in mode shift and land use, said Guzzetti in some of his comments during the TransLoc discussion.

“An efficiently designed community that’s built around transit is so much more energy efficient, so much less intensive on greenhouse gas emissions than say, a community designed around automobile travel,” said Guzzetti, as he advocated for designing communities for “the trip not taken.”

The infrastructure law allows for some $50 million a year to help fund a “congestion relief program” in large urban areas to help cities tackle the growing problem of traffic congestion. These projects might take the form of transit-oriented development projects or other ideas dabbling in urban design or other innovations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is going to have an additional $26 billion in discretionary funding for the next five years to create new programs, said Seleta Reynolds, general manager for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, during the CoMotionLA conference, who also added that many of the undersecretaries at USDOT are now women who have experience operating big city transportation agencies.

“That’s huge opportunity for making sure the word ‘urbanism’ isn’t a dirty word at USDOT,” said Reynolds.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.