Austin Seeks Federal Funds for Safer Streets

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill presents an opportunity

At MLK and I-35, right by Disch-Falk Field, cars would whip around this corner at speed and then cross three lanes of access road to make the northbound on-ramp. One of ATD's first Vision Zero safety interventions was to narrow and sharpen the right-turn lane and add a speed table (a flat, wide speed bump) to force cars to slow down at a place where there are often multiple pedestrians. The SS4A grant will allow the city to "rapidly scale up" its plans for such improvements citywide, especially in areas (like the Eastside) that have been historically underserved. (Photo by Mike Clark-Madison)

In November 2021 President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (the "bipartisan infrastructure bill") into law. Just six months later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the U.S. in 2021 – the highest figure since 2005.

Now, the feds are tapping into IIJA funds to try to make roads safer. Through the Safe Streets and Roads for All program (SS4A for short), the U.S. Dept. of Transportation opened $1 billion in funds this year – with plans to disperse a total of $5 billion over five years – for projects aimed at preventing roadway deaths and serious injuries. And local governments are keen to get in on the federal government's splurge.

Austin Seeks Federal Funds for Safer Streets

The city of Austin Transportation Department submitted an application by the Sept. 15 deadline. Lewis Leff, ATD's transportion safety officer, noted that the city has limited available local funding for safety projects. "With USDOT funding, Austin is ready to rapidly scale up these proven safety strategies, with a focus on the High-Injury Network [primarily those roads with the highest speeds] and on historically underserved communities," he said in an email. The city is requesting $22.9 million in funding for projects including signalizing intersections with a history of frequent or severe crashes, pedestrian hybrid beacons, a citywide street lighting study, video analytics for crash analysis and project evaluation, and education efforts focused on roundabouts.

Outside the city limits, Travis County has its sights set on developing "an actionable plan to reduce and prevent roadway fatalities and serious injuries for all users," said the county's Hector Nieto in an email. The county estimates that will cost $420,000, of which $350,000 could come from the federal grant. Specific projects and programs will be decided as the plan develops, but to access SS4A funds in future years, the county needs a federally approved safety plan.

The funds also stipulate that 40% of the dollars should target low-income and underserved communities, an important caveat, as the Chronicle has previously reported on how race and class inform disparities in road deaths. "Higher percentages of funding to underserved communities will be generally viewed favorably by DOT," reads the Notice of Funding Opportunity. Leff said ATD plans to spend at least 50% of grant funding in places designated by USDOT as historically underserved areas. Travis County intends to focus its outreach on underserved areas and populations as well, and will include equity analyses throughout the process.

While a Texas Dept. of Transportation spokesperson told us that the agency is not eligible for SS4A funds, the Capital Area Metro­politan Planning Organization submitted an application for a $2.9 million regional safety action plan, and also sent letters supporting the Travis County and ATD applications. USDOT plans to announce grant winners in January and send funds within 12 months, according to its website.

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