Strategies for Grant-Funded Rural Sidewalk Projects

The National Center for Safe Routes to School outlines how states can help small communities obtain federal funding set aside for rural sidewalk projects.

Closing sidewalk gaps, installing crosswalks or improving school zone signing and pavement marking are a few examples of rural sidewalk projects that can help the smallest communities improve their walkability, as well as increase the safety of daily walking routes to school.

Federal funding through state-allocated grants are available, but small communities face barriers in gaining access to it.

First, most small rural communities do not have the resources to apply for federal walking and bicycling project funds that their states are holding for them. They've also got limited technical expertise to plan and not enough staff to manage such projects, according to the The National Center for Safe Routes to School (Safe Routes to School). Finally, they may not have the extra funding needed when actual engineering and construction costs exceed estimates.

Rural communities have higher levels of physical inactivity, high injury and fatality rates from collisions and infrastructure deficient for safe walking and bicycling, according to a new Safe Routes to School National Partnership informational brief. The brief highlights ways small rural communities can overcome challenges in obtaining competitive grant funds and implementing successful projects.

Under the last two Federal transportation bills, including Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, states are required to set aside a portion of their funding for active transportation to support rural communities with 5,000 or less residents. Although small communities located within urbanized areas represented by a metropolitan planning organization are not eligible for this funding, even if they have a population of 5,000 or fewer people.

According to the brief, more than $335 million in Transportation Alternatives Program and Transportation Alternatives set-aside funds are available to states to spend in small rural communities. Funds designated for small rural communities vary from state to state. Florida, for example, has used almost 96 percent of its funds on walking and cycling projects. Conversely, there are seven states that have not obligated any funds for communities in this category, according to July email correspondence with the Federal Highway Administration.

In addition to case studies, the brief outlines the types of state resources available to help small communities get support for grant-funded rural sidewalk projects:

  • Regional Outreach - State departments of transportation may have regional offices that work directly with local communities. Regional transportation planning organizations and councils of government may post calls for rural sidewalk projects and then help with applications.
  • Application Assistance - States may help with pre-application technical assistance by identifying projects and locations, planning projects and estimating costs. They may also have resources to guide communities through environmental permitting or other applicable regulations processes.
  • Post-Award Assistance - Some states may actually design and provide construction administration work on behalf of the rural community, and on a basic level, provide training or assistance in grant reporting requirements.
  • Partnerships & Bundling - Partnerships with counties or state agencies can leverage required matching funds and technical expertise. Some states require it, and also encourage bundling similar projects with other communities to reduce administration burdens.

Download the brief on the website.

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