December 2013 Featured Article
Exploring the Opportunities for “Complete Streets”
Over time municipalities across New Jersey have lost their principle commercial streets to a hybrid of heavily engineered commercial corridors. These highways accommodate high volumes of private vehicular traffic linking low dense, low-return (in terms of property value and employment) and single-use building construction. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the United States will need $3.6 trillion dollars in infrastructure investments by 2020. With each passing year, funding for infrastructure projects are expected to become increasingly more competitive and costly. One solution for communities with increasingly congested roadways and limited commuting options involves identifying projects that will accommodate multiple modes of transportation or “Complete Streets”.
The National Complete Streets Coalition recognizes a complete street as infrastructure designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users alike can access and utilize a complete street. These types of projects can serve as a solution to decades of counterproductive roadway projects that do little to add value in communities across the nation. Making investments in areas that are encouraged to develop as dense walkable places, such as business districts, means that residents and visitors can create more fiscal sustainability for their community with higher per-acre tax revenues and a more diverse business environment.
In late 2009 the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) adopted a Complete Streets Policy, becoming one of 18 states to participate in this important initiative. Currently there are a total of 27 states with Complete Streets Policies in place. Although this achievement only directly affects New Jersey’s state roads, one of the provisions in the NJDOT’s policy is to “establish an incentive within the Local Aid program for counties, municipalities and communities to develop and implement a Complete Streets policy”. The source of this funding largely comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). TAP currently allocates 50 percent of its funding to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO’s) and the remaining 50 percent to state DOTs. In New Jersey, the Department of Transportation commits 1/3 of this money to complete streets-related projects in its Local Aide program.
According to New Jersey Future, the Local Aid program is a significant source of funding for municipal and county road projects, providing $78.75 million each to counties and municipalities for local projects each year. Funds for county projects are awarded based on a legislatively established formula; however municipal funds are awarded through a competitive grant process ranking each proposed project on a 25 point scale. Local communities are rewarded with added points if they have adopted and implemented their own Complete Streets Policy.
To further assist communities in meeting the 25 point criteria, the NJDOT has modified its application process to distinguish between “traditional” and “non-traditional” road projects, which include streetscape improvements and bike or pedestrian facilities. Two separate funding applications are now available allowing local governments to apply either for bike, pedestrian, streetscape or specific road projects. For example, the application for a road project looks at existing pavement conditions, while the application for a pedestrian project might look at connectivity to civic buildings.
In addition to the Complete Streets Local Aid Program, the NJDOT has other programs designed to fund bike or pedestrian projects throughout the state, including its Safe Routes to School, Safe Routes to Transit, Transit Villages and Bikeways programs. These programs allow municipalities to apply for funding from the NJDOT for bike or pedestrian projects that can also be tied to complete streets initiatives. The NJDOT has also been active in using its own capital funding for projects to enhance bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. New Jersey Future reports that in 2010 the NJDOT allocated $127 million for projects under its “multimodal” program.
Municipal adoption of Complete Streets Policies is steadily rising throughout New Jersey, with over 67 participating communities to date. The overall framework for these policies are already provided through NJDOT, and adoption and implementation only strengthens a municipality’s ability to secure the funding necessary to maximize its return on existing and future infrastructure.
For more information, please visit: http://njbikeped.org.
Published December 1, 2013.