At the 2023 NJDOT Research Showcase, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti “appealed to attendees to advance community-centered transportation and to commit to considering the needs of ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) persons when devising research questions and in carrying out their day-to-day activities with the goal of planning, building and maintaining a more safe, equitable and sustainable transportation system.” Gutierrez-Scaccetti has repeatedly said that she “drives with ALICE” in mind, but that ALICE would rather drive by herself. On Jan. 30, 2023, Gutierrez-Scaccetti spoke at the National ALICE Summit on Navigating the ALICE Highway: A Multistate Transportation System by 2030.
In recognition of the Commissioner’s emphasis on getting to better know who ALICE is, the NJDOT Research Library has done a quick research of resources related to the mobility of low-income households and the ALICE project at The United Way. These are included below:
United Way of Northern New Jersey operates the website United for ALICE, which maintains research pages for “partner states” (27 states plus the District of Columbia), including New Jersey. United Way of Northern New Jersey (then known as United Way of Morris County) released its first ALICE report in 2009.
The October 2023 NCHRP Research Results Digest, Collective and Individual Actions to Envision and Realize the Next Era of America’s Transportation Infrastructure: Phase 1, includes this background on ALICE households: “Economic growth and prosperity have not been spread evenly across the United States. About 13 percent of households earn incomes below the poverty line and an additional 29 percent are considered to be asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed (ALICE) … The average household spends 16 percent of total expenditures on transportation— the second biggest cost after housing … Significant numbers of Americans have limited access to health care, education, fresh food, or high-speed Internet.”
In 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy cited “more than one million [ALICE] families” in New Jersey as the impetus to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. In 2024, New Jersey’s minimum wage will surpass $15 for the first time.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy takes an opposite tack in its criticism. It issued a 2021 report, An Assessment of ALICE: A Misleading Measure of Poverty. “Unfortunately, United Way’s research on this issue is methodologically flawed, misleading and does not help inform the public or policymakers about how to help these households,” the authors write. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy describes itself as “a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government.”
Please contact the NJDOT research librarian, Eric Schwarz, MSLIS, at (609) 963-1898, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance on how to expand your search to projects, or retrieve these or other publications.
AASHTO’s Committee on Transportation Communications – known as TransComm – sponsors an annual skills awards competition to promote the sharing of best practices and to recognize outstanding communications efforts. In October 2023, NJDOT Bureau of Research representatives Amanda Gendek and Pragna Shah accepted the 2023 AASHTO TransComm Skills Award in the Virtual Events Category for NJDOT’s 24th Annual Research Showcase.
The NJDOT’s Bureau of Research Annual Research Showcase has been held since 1999 and provides an opportunity for the state’s transportation community to experience the broad scope of research initiatives and technology transfer activities conducted by their university and consultant partners. In addition to convening transportation professionals and researchers, the Showcase helps to emphasize NJDOT goals and objectives, share knowledge, and recognize the outstanding and inspiring research being done in the state.
The threat of COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic led to the Research Showcase being held fully online in 2020 and 2021. These fully virtual events resulted in a much larger audience, and even attracted attendees from other state Departments of Transportation. In 2022, as in-person events returned, the NJDOT Bureau of Research sought to find an approach that would maintain that larger audience base.
The 24th Annual Research Showcase, held October 26, 2022, was the first “hybrid” Research Showcase held by NJDOT and allowed individuals to attend the event online, while also allowing those able to gather, network and celebrate in person. Convening in a hybrid format required some additional coordination with the event planning team from Rutgers and Civic Eye Collaborative, a media consultant firm to live-stream the day’s proceedings. In total, 117 virtual participants and 190 in-person participants attended the day-long event.
The Showcase theme, “Advancing Equity in Transportation” served as the organizing framework for the keynote speaker and panelists during the morning plenary session. The keynote speaker, Keith Benjamin, Associate Administrator for Highway Policy and External Affairs at the FHWA, spoke about the USDOT’s efforts to advance equity, highlighting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act and various funding and program initiatives to address equity in transportation planning, project development, and other activities, among other topics. A panel session then explored the perspectives of representatives from NJDOT, county government, and transportation management associations (TMAs) who shared examples of the equity initiatives underway in their organizations. Questions and discussion invited panels to further reflect on the challenges and opportunities for advancing equity in transportation in New Jersey.
The Showcase included afternoon breakout sessions featuring research presentations that continued to address the equity theme as well as other mobility, infrastructure, safety topics in transportation being performed by research faculty, staff, and students and NJ agencies. Several awards were also presented in recognition of research accomplishments and implemented innovations. For a full description of the 24th Annual Research Showcase event, see this recap here.
The 24th Annual Research showcase was recognized with the AASHTO Award for its efforts to enhance accessibility through the virtual platform. In addition to live-streaming the plenary and breakout sessions, the video recordings of the event were posted on NJDOT’s Tech Transfer Video Library and all those who registered were notified of its availability — whether attending in-person or online. Subsequent direct email communications and social media posts have further broadened the audience of potential viewers. To watch recordings from this, and other Research Showcase events, visit the NJDOT Tech Transfer Video Library.
The Justice40 Initiative, referenced in Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crises at Home and Abroad, is a key element in the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) efforts to recognize and address long-standing patterns of under-investment in disadvantaged communities. The Initiative seeks to deliver resources to communities that have been disproportionately burdened by the adverse effects of climate change, pollution, and environmental hazards.
The Justice40 Initiative seeks to understand persistent gaps in infrastructure investment and public services and remedy disparities by working toward the goal that at least 40 percent of the benefits from many grants, programs, and initiatives will flow to disadvantaged communities. Through this Initiative, the USDOT will encourage the nation’s transportation agencies to plan and prioritize projects that will benefit rural, suburban, tribal, and urban communities facing barriers to affordable, equitable, reliable, and safe transportation.
USDOT has developed tools that practitioners and decision makers can use to become better informed on how their state or region’s communities may experience persistent disadvantages. With this information at-hand, agencies are called upon to advance projects to address or mitigate the causes of these disadvantages and improve the conditions within these overlooked communities to promote livability and economic prosperity.
Equitable Transportation Community Explorer
The USDOT’s Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, an interactive web application, explores the spatial patterns of cumulative burden experienced by communities. The ETC Explorer examines five components: Transportation Insecurity, Climate and Disaster Risk Burden, Environmental Burden, Health Vulnerability, and Social Vulnerability. See Table 1 for definitions of each of the underlying components.
Table 1. Definitions for the Disadvantage Components of ETC Explorer
Transportation Insecurity occurs when people are unable to get to where they need to go to meet the needs of their daily life regularly, reliably, and safely.
The Environmental Burden component of the index includes variables measuring factors such as pollution, hazardous facility exposure, water pollution and the built environment.
Social Vulnerability is a measure of socioeconomic indicators that have a direct impact on quality of life.
The Health Vulnerability category assesses the increased frequency of health conditions that may result from exposure to air, noise, and water pollution, as well as lifestyle factors such as poor walkability, car dependency, and long commute times.
Climate and Disaster Risk Burden
Climate and Disaster Risk Burden reflects sea level rise, changes in precipitation, extreme weather, and heat which pose risks to the transportation system.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation (2023). Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, ETC Explorer Technical Documentation.
These five components inform the development of a composite measure, the Disadvantaged Community Index, that defines census tracts as disadvantaged communities in the U.S. based on multiple dimensions of disadvantage. A score for each disadvantage component comprises several variables and information from several datasets. The index calculates cumulative disadvantage by normalizing the indicators associated with disadvantage, summing the percentile ranks of these indicators into components, and then summing the percentile ranks of the sums of each component to determine an overall score.
Figure 1 provides a graphical representation, including a list of the indicators for each component. The graphic shows how the indicators are used to inform each components score and how standardization techniques and percentile rankings are applied to derive a composite disadvantage score. USDOT considers census tracts to be “disadvantaged” if the overall index score places it in the 65th percentile (or higher) of all US census tracts.
The ETC Explorer Technical Documentation provides greater detail about how the data sources and methods were applied to create the individual indicators and standardize measures of disadvantage. The ETC Explorer relies upon an ArcGIS platform tool to observe spatial patterns and make comparisons at national, state, regional, and sub-state levels. Additional information is provided on the methodological assumptions and limitations of developing a tool with these capabilities.
The ETC Explorer was designed to complement the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). USDOT’s tool looks more deeply at the “Transportation Disadvantage” component of the CEJST, and the ETC Explorer’s Transportation Insecurity component. Both tools were developed to inform analyses and decision making to foster consideration of the transportation-related causes of disadvantage and how they can be remedied, in part, through future USDOT investments.
Past USDOT guidance noted that applicants for discretionary program funding have had the option of using CEJST or ETC Explorer when developing funding applications. State DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) can use the ETC Explorer in developing their Statewide Transportation Improvement Programs (STIPs) and Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs). USDOT also expects to use ETC Explorer as a consideration in setting policy and making funding decisions. Reference to the tool and how it can be used to consider equity in grant application criteria can be found in recently issued NOFOs.
Justice40 Covered Programs
In August 2022, the White House issued guidance on the breadth of the Federal programs that would be covered by Justice40 Initiative including seven areas of Federal investments covered by the Initiative: climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and clean water and wastewater infrastructure. In this guidance, USDOT noted that 39 programs, across five modes, totaling more than $204 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, are covered by the Initiative. USDOT indicated that other programs might be added or removed from coverage under Justice40. Table 2 provides a list of USDOT programs covered by Justice40.
Table 2. Justice40 Covered Program List
The Justice40 Covered Program list included 39 covered programs within the U.S. Department of Transportation in August 2022.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
Carbon Reduction Program *
Charging & Fueling Infrastructure Grants*
Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program *
Congestion Relief Program *
Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Supportive Services*
National Electric Vehicle Competitive Program*
National Electric Vehicle Formula Program*
Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects *
On the Job Supportive Services*
Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) (23 USC 176) *
Protect Grants (23 USC 176(d))*
Reduction of Truck Emissions at Port Facilities*
Transportation Alternatives (Surface Transportation Block Grant set-aside) *
Tribal High Priority Projects Program *
Tribal Transportation Facility Bridges (Bridge Investment Program set-aside) *
Tribal Transportation Facility Bridges (Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection and Construction set-aside) *
Tribal Transportation Program *
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements *
Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail *
Railroad Crossing Elimination Program *
Federal Transportation Administration (FTA)
All Station Accessibility Program (ASAP) *
Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Program*
Buses and Bus Facilities Program Formula *
Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Program *
Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants (CIG) *
Low or No Emission Vehicle Program *
Passenger Ferry Grant Program*
Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility Pilot Program *
Rural Transit Funding Programs (Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Competitive) *
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Planning Program*
Maritime Administration (MARAD)
America’s Marine Highway Program *
Port Infrastructure Development Program *
Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST)
National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA) *
Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight and Highway Projects (INFRA) *
Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) *
Reconnecting Communities Grant Program *
Safe Streets & Roads for All *
SMART (Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation)*
Thriving Communities Program
NJ Example Maps
The ETC Explorer offers an interactive dashboard to help users understand how a community or project area experiences transportation disadvantage compared to all other census tracts nationally or statewide across the various disadvantage components and forty indicators. Popup databoxes provide more information on Transportation Insecurity for a selected census tract.
Below are examples of the statewide and local area outputs that can be quickly generated.
ETC Explorer Statewide Dashboard for New Jersey. The dashboard highlights that “Disadvantaged Census Tracts” comprise 17 percent of all the Census Tracts statewide and that 1.3 million persons live in these census tracts. In this example, Environmental Burdens are displayed and indicate that they are more prevalent in NJ than other components of disadvantage. Among the individual indicators of environmental burden that rank relatively highly and exceed the threshold for “disadvantage” are Diesel PM Levels, Hazardous Sites Proximity, and Impaired Surface Waters (see Figure 2A).
DOT Disadvantaged Census Tracts – National and State Results. The ETC Explorer can be used to display the DOT Disadvantaged Census Tracts based on a nationwide comparison (see Figure 2B) or on a statewide basis (see Figure 2C). The state results map shows additional areas that meet a disadvantaged threshold than are identified in the national results map. This is particularly useful for identifying the locations and spatial distribution of these highly-disadvantaged tracts in New Jersey.
Overall Disadvantage Percentile Ranked State Results. This statewide map shows percentile rankings of disadvantage by census tract for the three MPO regions (see Figure 2D). The gradient mapping display offers more information than the simpler binary designations.
Disadvantage Components, Percentile Ranked State Results. Data on the individual underlying components of disadvantage can be mapped to show the percentile rankings within the state. Examples of statewide maps displaying the census tracts that are more and less affected by Environmental Burden (Figure 2E) and Climate and Disaster Risk Burden (Figure 2F) are shown.
Overall Disadvantage Percentile Ranked, State Results, Community Analysis Example. The ETC Explorer on the online ArcGIS platform permits analysis of sub-areas of the state. In Figure 2G, the City of Trenton and environs are examined for Overall Disadvantage in a percentile ranking map.
Transportation Insecurity Features. The ETC Explorer tool permits closer inspection of its various data elements. In Figure 2H, a small portion of a popup databox is shown for a selected census tract in Trenton that provides a snapshot of Transportation Insecurity indicators. When fully displayed, the popup databox displays summary and the underlying insecurity feature indicators for “Cost Burden,” “Access Burden,” and “Safety.”
Justice40 is More than a Desktop Exercise
The ETC Explorer is an important tool for identifying the underlying components of disadvantage, but achieving the objectives of Justice40 will require more than desktop exercise. USDOT emphasizes that agencies and practitioners should be cognizant of the Three Major Components of DOT’s Justice40 Initiative as they work to plan, design, program, and deliver projects. They include understanding:
The needs of a community through meaningful public engagement
How a community is affected by lack of transportation investments and options
What benefits a project may create, who will receive these benefits, and how these benefits will lessen the effects of the disadvantage of the community in question
Ongoing challenges exist in building capacity and preparing transportation agencies, eligible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and affected communities for applying for and utilizing the project funding offered by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. In a recent research brief, the Urban Institute distilled observations from interviews with representatives from agencies and NGOs on their pressing needs and how to address the varying capacities of applicants to secure discretionary grant infrastructure funding. Among the topics covered, the interviews shared insights on the challenges of facilitating meaningful community engagement, contending within the application cycle, and managing relationships within the local ecosystem.
Recognizing the capacity challenges and moving toward a more equity-centric vision for project funding, USDOT established the Thriving Communities Program to provide planning, technical assistance, and capacity building support. The first round of funding awards, announced in April 2023, included funding for teams of Capacity Builders.
The City of East Orange, in partnership with the City of Orange Township and Housing and Neighborhood Development Services, Inc. (HANDS), was among the communities awarded project funding for capacity building support. They hope to address key challenges and needs disproportionately borne by low-income and minority populations in both cities due to the construction of Interstate 280 and Freeway Drive in the 1960s that led to detrimental safety, economic development, livability, housing, connectivity, and mobility effects for the affected communities. They would like to enlist the capacity builders to “assist the cities in working with state and regional transportation partners to advance a set of improvements to bridges, roadways, and other transportation infrastructure.”
Similarly, USDOT established a Reconnecting Communities Institute (RCI) to deliver training and technical assistance to build organizational or community capacity in transportation planning and formulate innovative strategies for communities previously divided by transportation infrastructure. The BiL created a new $1 billion Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program (RCP), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) created a similar $3.15 billion Neighborhood Access and Equity Program (NAEP) to fund projects that will retrofit, remove or remediate infrastructure that cause barriers and other harmful impacts that isolate and separate neighborhoods and communities. Both programs offer planning grants, capital grants, and technical assistance, and a combined Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods (RCN) notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) was recently issued. USDOT has indicated that enrollment into the RCI will be open to States, local and tribal governments, MPOs, and NGOs. Disadvantaged communities are expected to be prioritized for enrollment in the RCI.
Axelrod, A., Boyd, C., Fu, S., Ramos, K., and Balakrishnan, C. (2022). Lessons from Local Leaders: How Federal Agencies Can Help Ensure Data-Driven and Equity-Centric Infrastructure Investments. Urban Institute. Accessed here: Link
Boutros, A., Resler, K., and Field, S. (2023). Integrating Equity into Transportation Funding and Project Prioritization. Public Roads – Spring 2023. Vol. 87 No. 1. Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-23-003. Accessed here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation (2023). Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, Website. Accessed here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2023). Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, User Guide. Accessed here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2023). Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, ETC Explorer Technical Documentation. Accessed here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2023). Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, User Guide. Accessed here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2023). FY 2022 Thriving Communities Program: Selected Capacity Builder Profiles. Access here: Link
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2023). Calculating Percentage of Population in Underserved Communities for SS4A. Access here: Link
Executive Office of the President. (January, 2021). Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Accessed here: Link
Executive Office of the President. (August, 2022). Justice40 Initiative Covered Programs List. Accessed here: Link
Zhao, L., Huynh, N., and Hawkins, J. Framework for Quantifying Benefits to Disadvantaged Communities: Application to Nebraska’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Plan. Funded Project. Accessed here: Link.
Chris Coes, FHWA's Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, highlighted in a press release that 52 percent of the RAISE funding in the current round was for roadway projects with a substantial amount of that intended for “Complete Streets” projects -- that is, pedestrian-friendly renovations to existing roadways (1). Complete Street initiatives, such as San Francisco’s RAISE-funded introduction of concrete buffers and protected bike lanes to Howard Street (2), are expected to create safer, more equitable communities where the automobile has disrupted livability. RAISE can likewise leapfrog funds directly to local governments and metropolitan planning organizations in this pursuit.
RAISE’s funding is a major break from its predecessor program in its greater support for modal diversity and the application of the equity lens in project prioritization. According to the Urbanist, transportation analyst Yonah Freemark claims “that just 10% of the dollar amounts [of RAISE’s 2022 budget is] set to fund projects that build new roadways or expand existing ones” (3). For comparison, BUILD (a Trump-era successor to the Obama-era TIGER program) devoted roughly 50 percent of its funds toward expanding and building new automobile roadways (3). Additionally, 50% of RAISE funding will go to rural communities (1) and roughly two-thirds will go to areas of persistent poverty or historically disadvantaged communities (1), ensuring equity is a centerpiece of RAISE.
In the current funding round, the US DOT has announced 166 projects that are receiving RAISE funds with roughly 7 percent of the competitive funding program going to maritime projects and 4 percent for rail (1). Environmental Justice considerations and equity concerns are intertwined with port intermodal projects such as the “Port Miami Net Zero Program” in Florida, which will expand its intermodal rail capacity, add electric cranes, and improve its stormwater drainage system (2). Often diesel powered infrastructure at port facilities or vehicular traffic along highways can emit harmful air pollutants into nearby vulnerable communities; in this context, RAISE investment in port, rail, and vehicle electrification may yield a reduction in the environmental harms borne by nearby populations and communities.
Physical barriers or guard poles funded through RAISE will address safety inequities affecting cyclists. Courtesy of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Planned RAISE-funded renovations combine improvements to efficiency and equity with greater investment in sustainable, greener technologies at America’s ports and in other transportation systems. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Transportation.
RAISE 2022 Factsheets show that the planned ferry route between the City of Elizabeth and Manhattan will also take advantage of connections between Elizabeth’s waterfront and Newark Liberty Airport. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Transportation.
In a similar vein, a $5 million RAISE planning grant to the City of Elizabeth will examine, identify and assess the feasibility of an electric ferry service from the Elizabeth, NJ waterfront to New York. The envisioned project would provide a ferry terminal and ferry service to and from Manhattan (2). Beyond studying the congestion and carbon emission reductions and energy savings from such infrastructure for NJ-NYC commutes, the RAISE planning grant to Elizabeth will also analyze the land development and economic impacts of project enhancements to the municipality's waterfront (2). With the potential implementation of "cordon-based" congestion pricing in Manhattan, the Elizabeth ferry service might provide more affordable access, or another mass transit travel option to reach NYC’s employment centers or its entertainment and recreational destinations for New Jersey residents (4) in the face of steeper priced travel by auto.
In New Jersey, the Atlantic City Resilient Route 40 Project was awarded $20 million in RAISE funding. Preparing for rising flood risks, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) seeks to elevate one of Atlantic City's main evacuation routes for vehicles and pedestrians, improve storm drainage in the busy Route 40 corridor, and relocate associated utilities (2). Thousands of commuters use Route 40 to reach their employment in Atlantic City’s casino industries (2). Reducing floods to vulnerable Route 40 paths will prevent low-income travelers from being forced to take the Atlantic City Expressway Toll Road as an alternative (2). NJDOT’s drainage efforts are no less important to the environmental equity aims of the RAISE-funded project; it is commonly found that the socioeconomically marginalized tend to live and work in areas of increased flooding risk. The inclusion of an updated 800-foot extension of an Atlantic City seawall and roadway drainage improvement will reduce hazards that would likely impact disadvantaged residents most directly.
Addressing Atlantic City’s coastal vulnerability with the RAISE-funded resiliency project could have measurable benefit to insurance rates for flood-vulnerable residents in addition to managing potential hazards. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Transportation.
Over the next five years, the RAISE program is expected to provide $7.5 billion in planning and capital improvements for transportation projects. Under this competitively awarded program, projects should be aligned with key project selection criteria, including safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, economic competitiveness and opportunity, partnership and collaboration, innovation, state of good repair, and mobility and community connectivity (1). Within these areas, the U.S. DOT Department has emphasized that project selection will consider how projects improve accessibility for all travelers, bolster supply chain efficiency, and support racial equity and economic growth – especially in historically disadvantaged communities and areas of persistent poverty (1).
The RAISE program is just one of several programs that U.S. DOT has identified as covered by the Biden-Harris Administration's Justice40 Initiative. The objective behind the Initiative is to address decades of underinvestment in disadvantaged communities and bring more Federal resources to communities most impacted by climate change, pollution, and environmental hazards (5).
Recent growth in available federal funding for transportation projects, including funding programs like RAISE, signal that the national transportation ecosystem can be reshaped -- to some extent -- through intentional planning, project selection, design and funding that looks to redress equity gaps and foster community livability and environmental sustainability The nation's disadvantaged communities -- defined in Justice40 through several indicators that map and measure economic condition, health, transportation access, environment, resilience, and equity -- stand to gain from this greater commitment to the equity and opportunity lens in decisionmaking, and RAISE-funded projects are one means for actualizing this transformative objective.
The State of New Jersey has committed to the widespread deployment of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging technologies in the pursuit of cleaner, less carbon intensive roadway travel. With the establishment of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program (NEVI) in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BiL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), additional federal funding will be available to support New Jersey’s EV transition ambitions.
To receive NEVI Formula Program funds, states are required to develop an FHWA-approved EV Infrastructure Deployment Plan that describes how the state intends to use the funds in accordance with the NEVI Formula Program Guidance. The State of New Jersey convened a multi-agency task force that included the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), NJ Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU), the NJ Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), among others (1), to meet the August 1, 2022 deadline for plan submission to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation with FHWA approval expected by September 30, 2022.
Funding for EV Chargers
Having the highest number of registered electric cars on the road per public charging station of any state in the country, at a ratio of 46.16 (2), New Jersey stands to benefit greatly from NEVI’s formula funding for new EV charging stations. In total, NJDOT will receive $104.4 million from the program over five years (3). This sum represents 2.51 percent of the $4.2 billion that USDOT expects to provide to all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia through NEVI’s formula (3). For comparison, in 2020 New Jersey’s share of the total American population was roughly 2.8 percent (4), but critically, its share of land area is less than a fraction of a percent (5). Thus, in terms of EV charging infrastructure, the apportioned NEVI funding for New Jersey can ensure broader geographic coverage for its residents than may be possible for other less densely populated states.
Adoption of EV and Hybrid Electric Vehicles is growing exponentially in New Jersey as the technology and infrastructure continues to develop. Courtesy of NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
NEVI’s provisions mandate that interstates and highways designated as alternative fuel corridors (AFCs) must have charging stations at intervals of 50 miles or less (and within 1 mile from the highway itself (6)). In the most recent round of nominations, all of NJ’s interstate roadways were accepted and designated as AFCs by the FHWA, including: I-76, I-676, I-78, I-278, I-80, I-280, I-287, I-95, I-195, I-295, the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Atlantic City Expressway. At a minimum, the charging stations must have the capability to simultaneously charge four vehicles at 150kW each. The development of intercity EV infrastructure should expand the travel range and charging options for through-travelers and New Jerseyans who operate the State’s rapidly growing fleet of registered plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) which numbered 64,307 in 2021 (7).
Far more charging stations will be required in New Jersey should the State achieve its goal of 100 percent PEV sales by 2035. By then, the EV vehicle fleet would reach 4.2 million registered EVs, or 73 percent of the estimated total of six million registered vehicles. The NJ EV Plan estimates that between 1,600 and 5,600 additional publicly available fast charging sites will be required throughout the state to meet these registration levels (1).
Beyond the $5 billion from NEVI, the program will establish the DOT-DOE Joint Office of Energy and Transportation to coordinate the shift in energy mixes for the nation’s transportation technology. Courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.
Supplementing the NEVI Funding Formula program, the BiL sets aside discretionary funding through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Competitive Program to fill in gaps in publicly accessible EV charging and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling infrastructure along both designated alternative fuel corridors (50%) and in community locations (50%), such as parking facilities, public schools, public parks, or along public roads. Under this program, USDOT will prioritize projects that expand access to charging and alternative fueling infrastructure within rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and communities with limited parking space or a high ratio of multi-unit dwellings to single-family homes. Eligible entities include states, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments, political subdivisions, and tribal governments. NJ will be eligible to compete for these funds.
The NJ EV Plan establishes three phases for EV infrastructure development:
Phase 1 focuses on developing electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) along the State's AFCs toward achieving "fully built out" status pursuant to the national NEVI program guidance. Nominated corridors must be equipped with at least four, 150 kW chargers at least every 50 miles and located less than or equal to one mile from the corridor exit.
Phase 2 focuses on addressing DC fast chargers on New Jersey’s main corridors every 25 miles, as established by State law and recognizing NJ as the most densely populated state. The State will incentivize the siting of charging stations at corridor interchanges to achieve the goal of EVSE chargers at a spacing of 25 and 50 miles. The 25-mile spacing provides opportunities to install one EVSE location at the intersection of two corridors and potentially serve both corridors which in some instances may save on installation costs.
Phase 3 implements EVSE flexibly in accordance with community needs which could include community-centric charging as well as fast charging hubs near multi-unit dwellings (MUD) and in disadvantaged and overburdened communities to enable electric ride sharing and ride hailing.
The NJ EV Plan emphasizes that each phase will involve planning, community outreach, stakeholder engagement and alignment with Justice40 initiatives. While initial focus will be on Phase 1, the Plan allows for all phases to progress over the next five years (1).
NJ EV Deployment Plan is divided into three overlapping phases over the five-year plan: Deployment of chargers between 50 and 25-mile spaces, addressing gaps in the network, and flexible implementation based on community needs. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The NJ EV Deployment Plan notes the establishment of its “Partnership to Plug In,” a multi-agency partnership formed to coordinate the broader statewide rollout of EVs. Partnership to Plug In is co-led by NJBPU, NJDEP and NJEDA and “bolstered by support from Treasury, NJ TRANSIT and NJDOT” (1). NEVI formula funding will increase the support NJDOT can provide to the Partnership. The deployment plan frames NEVI as a stepping-stone towards NJ’s policy goals “of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050 and reducing State greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2006 levels by 2050” (1).
The expansion of NJ’s EV infrastructure network is a complementary next step to the state’s tax incentives and rebate programs and model municipal ordinance initiative to encourage greater EV adoption. Given a $173,000 cost estimate per station, New Jersey’s share of NEVI funding alone is expected to provide enough for 600 charging stations (9). For comparison, the NJDEP estimates roughly 736 Public Charging Locations in NJ (10), illustrating the scale of the potential impact from formula funding.
Looking to place charging stations at a maximum 25 miles apart in applicable routes, twice the frequency required by NEVI, recent NJ state law signals its goal to remain a leading state for owning or operating an electric car (11). As established in the BiL, the State of New Jersey will share 20 percent of NEVI costs (8). The State government has already committed to requiring that 100 percent of state-owned, non-emergency light-duty vehicles be EVs by 2035 (12) and requiring at least 400 DC Fast Charger public stations by the end of 2025 (12).
The composition of public charging locations in New Jersey would benefit if NEVI provides more DC Fast Charging stations, as the majority of NJ locations only provide lesser voltage Level 1 and 2 chargers. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Gasoline exhaust from personal and commercial vehicles can lead to areas closer to highways experiencing disproportionate exposure to harmful air pollutants. Courtesy of Ruben de Rijcke, Wikimedia Commons
Equity in Environment, Workforce, Mobility and Community Economic Development Considerations
Creating the charging infrastructure to ease the transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles is a rational response to the global climate crisis. It is also an opportunity to advance equity and environmental justice through transportation investments. Subject to the Biden administration's Justice40 commitment to spend 40 percent of overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy in disadvantaged communities (13), NEVI mandates placement of EV charging stations in the State’s affected disadvantaged communities to reduce the negative impacts of gasoline-based air pollutants.
The NJ EV Deployment Plan highlights the ways in which it is aligned with advancing the Justice40 commitment. The Plan outlines the State’s existing laws, regulations, guidance, mapping tools and outreach processes that it has employed, and expects to continue to employ, to deliver equitable transportation benefits and combat the health stressors borne by individuals living near highways and facilities from exposure to tail-pipe exhaust from conventional fuels. The Plan highlights equity, workforce development, mobility needs, and community benefit commitments and considerations. Emphasis is placed on continuing outreach and dialogue processes, through successive deployment phases, working with community leaders and labor organizations, chambers of commerce, community colleges, technical schools, universities, training organizations, and industry to ensure that the deployment, installation, operation, and use of EV charging infrastructure achieves equitable and fair distribution of benefits and services.
Deploying Transformative Public Investment to Meet a Global, National and State Challenge
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 serves as a reminder of the transformative impact of large-scale federal public infrastructure investment. The bill created a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense" which accelerated the nation’s reliance on the personal automobile and commercial trucks for goods movement distribution and profoundly shaped our patterns of living today. Today our challenge is no longer building out the interstate system, but rather retrofitting our roadway systems and land use design to ensure a sufficient supply of EV charging stations. For this era, the aspirational vision for the NEVI program is to build a clean transportation network capable of ensuring reliable regional travel and supportive of carbon emission reduction goals to mitigate climate change impacts.
With its reported national budget of $5 billion (8), the NEVI program makes a critical national investment toward a future where the nation’s EV drivers will increasingly have the confidence to drive down any interstate, knowing charging stations will be waiting for them; non-EV drivers will likewise have fewer “range anxiety” concerns should this be a limiting factor in making the transition to operating a plug-in electric vehicle.
The NEVI program's support will help keep the State’s economy and transportation competitive by complementing its advancements and goals in the EV market. Rewarding New Jersey’s innovation and commitments in encouraging the adoption of new EVs on its road, NEVI’s role in building out charging stations to service EVs will ultimately serve the State well. Increasing the reliability of New Jersey EV network will result in reductions in diesel and carbon emissions from automobiles, thereby protecting the environment, health, and pocketbooks of New Jerseyans.
The interstate highway transportation building program undoubtedly yielded significant mobility and economic benefits for the nation in the post WW-II era but also imposed environmental and public health burdens for less favored communities. The benefits and burdens of the building program were not equitably distributed; the burdens were often disproportionately borne by predominantly minority and ethnic populations and lower-income communities that were powerless to halt transportation and land use decisions made in the name of “progress”, regional mobility, more efficient auto and truck travel, and urban renewal.
The Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a new and innovative program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, takes a small step toward repairing and redressing the adverse consequences of these past planning and engineering decisions. (1)
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) enacted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been described as a “once in a generation” investment in our nation's infrastructure, promising two million jobs per year and delivering needed financial assistance to transit, highways, water, power, and communications. While much of the BIL’s transportation funding is intended to encourage and prioritize the repair, reconstruction, replacement, and maintenance of existing transportation infrastructure, the BIL also tilts investment and resources for programs, new and old, to tackle the challenges of the 21st century in the realms of safety, equity, and climate change and resilience.
The BIL includes an innovative new program, the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, that sets aside $1 billion to “restore community connectivity by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating highways or other transportation facilities that create barriers to community connectivity, including, mobility, access, or economic development.” From 2022 through 2026, the pilot program will receive $500 million from the Highway Trust Fund and $500 million from the general fund for Planning and Capital Construction grants. (2)
Emergency services on scene at O'Connor Electro-Plating explosion in Los Angeles, Calif., 1947. Courtesy of UCLA Library.
Freeway and Urban Renewal in the Bronx. Provided with permission from Segregation by Design.
The USDOT explains that the Reconnecting Communities pilot program will help reconnect communities that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure. Reconnecting a community could mean adapting existing infrastructure– such as building a pedestrian walkway over or under an existing highway– to better connect neighborhoods to opportunities or improve access through crosswalks and redesigned intersections. The FY22 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) has been issued and is available on the USDOT website.
The primary goal of the program is to reconnect communities harmed by transportation infrastructure, through community-supported planning activities and capital construction projects that are championed by those communities. The planning grants support the funding of the planning processes for the entity performing the reconnection, to include project design and public outreach to the historically disconnected communities. Outreach can be tailored to overcome mistrust of the government entity that sited the infrastructure that disconnected the community, and explore potential strategies to redress the burdens of these past siting decisions. After planning is complete, capital construction grants will fund work to remove, replace, or mitigate the facility. The federal government will fund up to half of the costs of these projects.
Below Grade Portion of Cross Bronx Expressway under construction, provided with Permission from Segregation by Design
I-93 Construction in Boston, Provided with Permission by Segregation By Design
What the Reconnecting Communities Program Recognizes
The program is noteworthy for its recognition that, historically, many public and private entities presided over land use policies and the siting of transportation infrastructure that resulted in the isolation and segregation of poor and marginalized populations from the broader community. Some scholars have traced causes of spatial segregation to unfair enactment of zoning laws in the 1930s that peddled "health and safety" as the rationale for carrying out discriminatory land use policies. Over time, the color line boundaries were maintained through redlining, realtor steering, block-busting, and disinvestment that shaped a geography of unequal access to opportunities for those concentrated in disadvantaged communities.
The intent of early zoning was to reinforce protection of citizens’ health and safety as established in nuisance law. It gave governments police powers to make sure that the state and its cities could be proactive in anticipation of negative impacts. Unfortunately, with these powers, the enfranchised voter, politician, planner, and engineer set the parameters of health and safety to fit their preferences and biases. Governments could consolidate disenfranchised populations in specific areas and permit the siting of health and safety nuisances in these communities through “spot zoning”. For example, in South Central LA, a majority black neighborhood, the City began to spot zone industrial uses in commercial portions of the neighborhood. An electroplating plant in the area exploded in 1947 killing 5 local residents and 15 workers while damaging 100 homes. The property next to a church was spot zoned industrial and when the pastor raised their concerns, they were why “Why don’t you people buy a church somewhere else?” (3 pp. 55-56). These local decisions had the silent approval of state and federal governments.
Concurrently, the rise of the personal automobile required the allocation of space to make trips easier and faster in and through traditionally dense American cities. At the beginning of the Highwaymen Era, cities sought to build expressways and parkways, often ignoring the residents who sat in the bulldozer’s path. The Cross-Bronx Expressway is an often-referenced example of how damaging the siting of urban expressway projects were to community life and how powerless the affected communities were to halt siting decisions. In 1945, Robert Moses, perhaps the most infamous highwayman, sought to construct a seven-mile trench highway through the Bronx. He looked at the stretch as his to shape. Even when offered alternatives to his vision, alternatives that would have resulted in preserving more of the neighborhood and homes, he persisted with his alignment through the Bronx and its displacements of the families along the way. (4 pp. 839-878) Moses was not alone among the planners and engineers in ignoring the preferences and plight of local residents.
This process accelerated with passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956 that funded the construction of mostly free to access, grade-separated roads that linked cities, towns, and states. The money and power prescribed to states from the federal government allowed the powers that be to run highways through neighborhoods of primarily underrepresented populations. The Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco (5 pp. 46-96), I-93 in Boston (6), the several I-80’s of Oakland (7) , and many more cut deep into their cities in the name of progress (3 pp. 127-129). Individuals saw the divisive impacts of these highways on communities and eventually rallied in several cities to prevent their expansion, but it was too late for many communities. Hulking multilane highways that produced noise and air pollution cut up and cut off neighbors and communities (5 pp. 94-121).
Over time, people have organized and sought to mitigate or reverse the impacts of these highway sitings on the urban landscape. Several governmental bodies are engaged in planning processes for community reconnection and several projects have been successfully completed in the past two decades. The most famous two examples are The Embarcadero in San Francisco and Boston’s Big Dig. The Embarcadero Freeway was a multilevel highway that separated San Francisco Bay from the City. In 1989, an earthquake struck the Bay Area. The Embarcadero crumbled with the quake and people began to ask questions about how this massive waterfront space could be used. After fights with the State and a 6-5 vote at the municipal level, a boulevard and trolley tracks replaced the Embarcadero. (8) For the first time in decades, the bay, not pillars and concrete, bound San Francisco at its north end.
The most famous reconnection on the East Coast is probably the Big Dig. When constructed, I-93 tore through the historically Italian North End, cutting it off from the City proper. With no transit facilities, the neighborhood was isolated with large spans casting shadows into the residences of the North End. While the North End could not be saved, witnessing the damage caused by the highway sparked highway revolts throughout the Boston area leading to the cancellation of several highway projects in Boston. With traffic pressures rising and lack of political will for more throughput, Massachusetts started to plan the Big Dig in the early 1980s to repair the damage done and improve throughput on I-93. Over the next 35 years, Boston engaged with the North End community, the citizens of the City and business and waterfront interests to shape the public space that would follow. This development process resulted in the current boulevard and park that caps I-93. (6)
Before and After Replacing the Embarcadero, Courtesy of the San Francisco Planning Department
Recent and Promising Reconnections
In Boston and San Francisco, the removal of the highways revived the space, but also led to land speculation that has fueled displacement and gentrification. With the successes and mistakes of these community reconnections in mind, other states and cities are exploring restorative strategies that will avoid and minimize community displacements.
The Inner Loop of Rochester is one of the more recent reconnection projects on the East Coast. Its transformative effects have served as a "demonstration project for highway removal in other parts of the city" (9). When completed in 1965, I-490 and New York State Route 940T created a loop around Rochester’s downtown, making the area difficult to access for most residents. As the 1970s brought significant economic impacts to Upstate New York, Rochester’s population declined and the city recognized the need to reconnect the downtown with the rest of the city. In the early 2000s, several proposals slowly coalesced into public engagement in 2013 through which the citizens helped shape plans for the initial removal of the loop. For $21 million, Rochester removed and buried its below grade highway and have since replaced it with housing and mixed-use development. (9,10)
Built between 1956 and 1968, I-94 connected the Twin Cities, but in the process badly damaged the majority Black neighborhood of Rondo, displacing 60 percent of its residents. In the late 2000s, a freeway cap was proposed to cover the highway in portions, but like many proposals at the time, it languished due to tight public budgets. In 2021, a local nonprofit, Reconnect Rondo, began spearheading an effort to reconnect portions of the community via a four-block land bridge. A land bridge option was settled on rather than removal or downgrading to a boulevard because that stretch of I-94 is considered the busiest segment of highway in the state. Reconnect Rondo is seeking justice in other ways for the cumulative impacts unleashed in part by the highway’s bisection of the community. They want to expand the neighborhood community land trust and provide housing and invest in local businesses while they pursue the highway cap. (11)
Modern day I-93 after the Big Dig, Courtesy of NewtonCourt and Wikimedia.
Rondo Neighborhood 1953 (left), 2020 (right), courtesy of Ramsey County, Minnesota
Syracuse is replacing I-81, the viaduct that runs through the core of its city. I-81’s construction ran through a neighborhood that was not only majority black, but also held a majority of all the black residents in Syracuse. The press depicted the neighborhood as slums and the State targeted the neighborhood for urban renewal in 1957. The completion of the viaduct left a soaring piece of infrastructure that isolated the community. Syracuse joined with several other municipalities in seeking to right the wrong created by I-81 and recently received funding from the State of New York to replace the highway with a boulevard. Community members fear that the growth resulting from the return of I-81 to the city’s grid may displace residents. NYSDOT’s only noted plan for addressing this potential impact is to ensure the ongoing update to the city’s development plan includes gathering the community’s input on how the new space incorporates with the community. (12-15)
New Jersey now has an opportunity to learn from those who have already planned and implemented community reconnection projects. In recent years, two highway segments have been identified as candidate projects. In Northern New Jersey, I-280, when constructed, cut a deep swath underneath the streets of Newark, East Orange and Orange. Today, the interstate segment divides neighborhoods and generates traffic, noise, and air pollution and presents unsafe pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), in association with Essex County and the affected municipalities, examined strategies for reconnection in the Essex County Freeway Drive and Station Area: Safety and Public Realm Study in 2017. This study examined access and circulation issues in Orange and East Orange, and around the East Orange, Brick Church and Orange train stations, Route 280, Freeway Drive East and West, and the NJ TRANSIT elevated rail line (16). The Regional Planning Association’s Fourth Plan, completed in 2019, calls for capping I-280 in Newark and East Orange "to restore the street grid and knit back together neighborhoods." (17)
In the State Capitol, the city, county, and state all have sought to transform State Route 29. While not a part of the Interstate System, NJ-29 connects with I-195 and I-295 south of Trenton and winds along the Delaware River, separating Trenton residents from the waterfront. In 2009, the City of Trenton signed a memorandum of understanding with several agencies that proposed transformation of NJ-29 into a boulevard, but like I-94, the project has not advanced. A 2016 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) spurred renewed interest in continuing the process. (18) With the availability of funding, advocates are seeking state support to plan and rebuild a section of Route 29 in downtown Trenton (19,20).
Can affected communities and stakeholders in New Jersey draw inspiration from the reconciliation and restoration efforts of other states and regions? With federal funding available, advocates see an opportune time to get these or other projects off the ground that could reconnect the communities once divided by past roadway siting and design decisions.
Rendering of before and after I-81 is torn down, courtesy of NYSDOT
On November 15, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), often referred to as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” (BIL), was signed into law. With the BIL’s passage, the United States has committed approximately $550 billion to transportation infrastructure within a wider $1 trillion + federal reinvestment in the nation’s infrastructure .
Much of the BIL transportation funding seeks to encourage and prioritize the repair, reconstruction and replacement and maintenance of existing transportation infrastructure with appropriations totaling some $350.8 billion (FY 2022-2026), drawing from the highway trust fund ($303.5 billion) and advance appropriations from the general fund (47.3 billion). Most of the highway funding is apportioned to States based on formulas specified in Federal law. New Jersey could receive approximately $8.1 billion over five years for highways and bridges, based on the federal highway funding formula, or about 41.6 percent more than the State’s funding under current law . However, the BiL also provides significant funding through various competitive grant programs such as the bridges and megaprojects that can demonstrate substantial economic benefits. New Jersey’s Portal North Bridge under construction in Secaucus reportedly may meet the requirements for a Capital Investment Grant for transit projects .
All U.S. DOT modes will receive transportation funding from BiL with the greatest amount handled through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Most of the highway trust funding is apportioned by formula to the states.
A great deal of the BiL funding being directed for HIPs from the General Fund is formula-based.
Two new climate-focused programs, the Carbon Reduction Program and PROTECT, together match the scale of funding set aside for CMAQ—widening the scope of environmental concerns beyond congestion mitigation and air quality.
Notably, the BIL takes innovative steps in the realms of safety, equity, and climate change and resilience to increase investment and resources for programs, new and old, that will tackle the challenges of the 21st century in both a national and New Jersey-specific context. Growing awareness of the broad harms of road hazards, inequity and injustice, and climate change will inform not only the purpose of specific program investments but influence transportation planning, project delivery, and research for years to come.
A major program that will advance safety innovation and renovations across the country is the $5 billion, FY 2022-2026 Safe Streets for All (SS4A) Program. A “Complete Streets” program, SS4A is a discretionary program which seeks to advance USDOT’s goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on our nation’s roadways by implementing multi-modal improvements and safety treatments. Examples of applicable SS4A modifications include separated bicycle lanes, traffic calming road design changes, rumble strips, wider edge lines, flashing beacons, and better signage. Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), local, and tribal governments are eligible to apply for this funding. Separate provisions in BIL define Complete Streets standards and policies. Additional information on SS4A can be found here. FHWA provides accessible information on Complete Streets here.
A “complete street” in Washington, D.C. with several community livability features for an urban setting such as wide sidewalks with tree coverage, traffic calming design, and a physically protected middle bike lane. Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash.
Changes have been made to existing safety programs such as the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) which could prove to more holistically mitigate road hazards. Eligibility for HSIP’s funds (up to 10 percent) can now be used for “specified safety projects (including non-infrastructure safety projects related to education, research, enforcement, emergency services, and safe routes to school)” . Definitions for the program have been modified to recognize as eligible a variety of new types of projects such as traffic control devices for pedestrians and bicyclists and “roadway improvements that separate motor vehicles from bicycles or pedestrians” . State-level assessments of vulnerable road users are rolled into the requirements of the HSIP. More information on these guidance changes can be found here.
Funding for highway safety traffic programs under the BIL are $13 billion more than the levels established for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. In FY2022-2026, 402 formula funding for highway safety traffic programs is expected to allocate approximately $42 million to New Jersey to help improve driver behavior and reduce deaths and injuries from motor vehicle-related crashes. This funding represents about a 29 percent increase over FAST Act levels  when averaged on an annual basis. Such increases in funding for roadway safety improvement provides an opportunity to put forward educational, enforcement and design strategies to counter a recent surge in US and NJ traffic fatalities.
To promote and implement equity-oriented innovation, the current administration has held itself to a “Justice40 commitment,” the goal of which is to deliver 40 percent of the benefits of the climate and energy related investments to disadvantaged communities . This commitment is reflected in BIL’s transportation funding. One example provided by USDOT is that $5.6 billion in Low- or No-Emission Bus Grants to transition to low- or zero-emission buses will be assessed and likely partially directed to low-income communities to advance environmental justice.
USDOT developed a definition for disadvantaged communities (DACs) to be utilized in connection with certain criteria under Justice40-covered grant programs. The DAC definition draws upon data for 22 indicators collected at the U.S. Census tract level, which are then grouped into six categories of transportation disadvantage to identify places that are disadvantaged.
The Justice40 Disadvantaged Community Interim Definition goes as follows:
Transportation access disadvantage identifies communities and places where residents spend more, and take longer, to get where they need to go.
Health disadvantage identifies communities based on variables associated with adverse health outcomes, disability, as well as environmental exposures.
Environmental disadvantage identifies communities with disproportionately high levels of certain air pollutants and high potential presence of lead-based paint in housing units.
Economic disadvantage identifies areas and populations with high poverty, low wealth, lack of local jobs, low homeownership, low educational attainment, and high inequality.
Resilience disadvantage identifies communities vulnerable to hazards caused by climate change.
Equity disadvantage identifies communities with a high percentile of persons (age 5+) who speak English "less than well."
Several USDOT programs are using the interim definition of DACs to ask discretionary grant applicants and formula program administrators to identify how their projects benefit DACs. More information on how the Justice40 commitment shapes the equity orientation of BIL’s transportation funding can be found here.
One major new BIL program addressing inequities within America’s transportation infrastructure is the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The discretionary program was conceived to provide $1 billion over five years to remedy the negative effects of past transportation investment decisions that divided communities , such as highway expansions that cut cities in half. Applicants for Reconnecting Communities funding can seek capital constructions grants (such as for the replacement of an eligible facility with a new facility that restores community connectivity) or as well as planning grants and technical assistance grants. More information about this innovative program to redress the adverse cumulative effects borne by communities from past transportation investments can be found here.
For New Jersey, the Reduction of Truck Emissions at Port Facilities Program is another innovative program that holds promise for redressing the environmental health effects attributable to siting and operating regional goods movement facilities. By funding the study of, and competitive grants to reduce, truck idling and emissions at ports (such as promotion of port electrification and possibly hydrogen-fuel technologies), pollutants and adverse health disparities borne by port communities could be reduced. Northern New Jersey, as one of the most important freight hubs in North America, is likely to receive some of the $400 million available in discretionary funding (FY2022-FY2026) as well as a portion of the Port Infrastructure Development Program’s annual budget, recently increased to $450 million. These investments to modernize and reduce the environmental burdens of the nation’s freight infrastructure could reduce unfairly distributed health hazards in New Jersey.
In line with the Justice40 commitment, a number of regulatory changes to existing programs contain equity-oriented provisions. In the continuation of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Metropolitan Planning Program has a BIL requirement “to consider equitable and proportional representation of population of metropolitan planning area when the MPO designates officials or representatives” . Such requirements, even when non-binding, support a wider culture and consideration of equity in how the nation’s urban and transportation policies are devised and implemented. Many communities today live with the legacy of decisions made without their input, and so this innovative provision in the Metropolitan Planning Program is an appropriate step to discontinue such inequities in institutional processes.
USDOT’s Disadvantaged Communities map of New Jersey Census Tracts illustrates several places (in yellow) that should inform project planning that is aligned with the Justice40 Commitment
Climate & Resilience
The climate and resilience orientation of the BIL presents innovation not only in fashioning new programs but in integrating carbon reduction goals into existing infrastructure funding frameworks. The newly established Carbon Reduction Program is a formula-funded $6.4 billion addition to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for the purpose of backing projects that reduce transportation emissions, and support development of broader carbon reduction strategies. Projects as varied as congestion pricing systems, infrastructure for alternative fueled vehicles (electric, hydrogen, propane, and natural gas), port electrification, replacement of street lighting and traffic control devices with energy-efficient alternatives, and public transportation are eligible. Additional information on the Carbon Reduction Program can be found here.
Increased need for disaster resiliency in transportation systems informs the purpose of the newly established Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program. Like the Carbon Reduction Program, PROTECT injects $7.3 billion in the HTF for a formula distribution to the states and also provides $1.4 billion in discretionary funds. This $8.7 billion will help fund resilience improvements in highways, transit systems, intercity passenger rail, and port facilities, as well as support the development of resiliency and evacuation plans. For FY2022 alone, New Jersey is expected to receive roughly $34 million  from PROTECT, presenting the opportunity to proactively guard the State’s transportation system from hazards related to climate change. Discussion from the National League of Cities on PROTECT can be found here.
Within the realm of innovative transportation technology, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program seeks to expand the supply of infrastructure to support the growing presence, if not the transition, of the nation’s fleet to electric and alternative fuel vehicles. Providing approximately $5 billion over five years, NEVI is designed to establish Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations “along designated Alternative Fuel Corridors, particularly along the Interstate Highway System.” Building on existing federal plans such as Alternative Fuel Corridors, NEVI seeks to guarantee interstate travel by electric vehicle nationally.
Given that New Jersey has the highest number of electric cars per charging station of any state in the country, this additional push is well-suited to the state’s needs and climate goals. The NEVI formula is expected to provide New Jersey with $104.4 million; at an estimated cost per station of $173,000, this level of investment would pay for around 600 charging stations . This funding represents 2.5 percent of the total fund which is roughly commensurate with New Jersey’s Census 2020 population share of 2.8 percent. Another $1.4 billion is available through NEVI discretionary funding that New Jersey could compete to receive.
Similarly, the discretionary Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Program is a competitive funding program with $2.5 billion available to implement innovative fueling infrastructure. At least fifty percent of this funding must be used for a community grant program that prioritizes projects in rural areas, low- and moderate-income communities, and communities with a low ratio of private parking spaces. New Jersey governments’ ability to compete for this funding could shape the built environment and advance the state’s carbon reduction goals for years to come.
Additional information on the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program can be found here. Additional information on how NEVI and the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure program connect within new federal funding programs for EV Charging can found here. An article of NEVI’s role in New Jersey can found here.
Charging Station sign: Increased investments in EV charging technology will promote changes in built environment and the energy mix of transportation. Photo by Michael Marais on Unsplash.
Other new discretionary programs are established for significant infrastructure programs and freight, equity, planning and project delivery. Research, development, technology and education (RDT&E) program funding levels are authorized with various highway research set-asides established to support deployment and operation of innovative technologies to pilot road usage fees, accelerate digital construction management systems, and advance mobility programs.
The BiL has been characterized as a “once in a generation investment in infrastructure.” As with prior Federal transportation spending bills, the BiL contains provisions that can be expected to influence the nation’s economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and development priorities. In this case, the BiL offers new opportunities for planning, building, and maintaining a transportation system that is more reliable and safe, equitable, and resilient to economic and energy security challenges and climate change.
FHWA has prepared a table to illustrate how various programs are available to a range of recipients. Interestingly, Safe Streets and Roads for All is the only program that states are not eligible for, conveying a truly neighborhood scale approach.