Friday, May 14, 2010

Transit Money for Indian Country

Every so often, I tell friends or family that one of the things we do is provide technical assistance that promotes better transit for people on Indian reservations and in tribal communities across the country. This fascinates them, and then they realize that yes, indeed, there are a lot of critical mobility needs among our country's first inhabitants.

Under the current SAFETEA-LU legislation, there is a small program of competitive grants to help tribes (by which the federal government also includes Alaska Native villages, and other groups, governments and communities officially recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA]) plan, capitalize and operate public transit programs to serve their residents. It's one of the most competitive programs within the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) budget.

Having said that, this is the announcement that tribal grant application writers had better fire up their computers right now, because FTA published an announcement on May 13 that this year's funding is now available for application.

The program is the Section 5311(c) Tribal Transit Program. Only BIA-recognized entities are eligible applicants. The federal share is 100 percent of project costs. There is a total of $15.1 million available for grants. Applications are due June 28, 2010. Because Section 5311(c) is a subset of the FTA program of transit grants for rural areas, BIA-recognized entities within urbanized areas (e.g., some tribal communities within certain portions of Arizona, New Mexico, California and Washington) are not eligible to apply for these particular grants.

The Section 5311(c) program is not the only avenue for funding transit projects in Indian Country. Tribes and tribal entities are eligible subrecipients under all of FTA's formula grant programs, including Section 5311 rural transit grants and Section 5307 urban transit grants, although these grants require tribes to participate in state- or metropolitan transit programs in ways that don't always mesh with the U.S. Government's stated policy of "government-to-government" relations with tribal nations. In addition, funds allocated to tribes through the Indian Reservation Roads program are allowed to be spent on planning, capital purchases and even operations of tribal transit programs, if those are identified as priorities in tribal transportation planning documents.

More information, including a history of past funding awards for the Section 5311(c) program, can be found on the FTA web site.

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