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SCDOT funds could provide aid

Posted: January 3, 2013 7:13 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Recently authorized funds under the Federal Transportation Act could generate a significant impact in the community according to state and local officials. 

In October, approximately $9 million in statewide funding became available to the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT), money that could be applied towards local infrastructure projects.

The funds are distributed as part of the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), offered on a competitive basis to local governmental entities.

O.J. Papucci, Transportation Coordinator for the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments (SLRCOG), said the funds could be used towards a variety of improvement projects.

“What this is designed to do is to help people get out there in the community,” Papucci said.

He pointed to the City of Camden’s “road diet,” a plan to trim Broad Street down from four lanes to two, and to the city’s pursuit of more walkable sidewalks.  

“Camden is trying to encourage pedestrians to use downtown more and this program is designed to do that as well,” he said, referring to TAP. “This really can work anywhere. It could be in a rural community like Elgin or a big city like Charleston.” 

TAP funding levels are categorized in three ways. Urbanized areas with populations over 200,000, like Columbia, Charleston, or Greenville, are eligible for a pool of $2.9 million. In other urbanized areas of the state with populations greater than 5,000, like Camden, a pool of $1.8 million exists. For areas with a population less than 5,000, a pool of $2.5 million is available. The federal government would pay up to 80 percent of project costs with a local match of 20 percent required.

Papucci said providing matching money is typically one of the challenges for municipalities, but moving forward on certain projects can provide significant benefits.

“If there’s some project that’s out there that really needs support and there are local dollars, they can go ahead and put some federal dollars in there to make it happen and when you design a project, you can also put a lot of people to work,” he said. “It’s a good program. I would encourage communities to look at it.”

He explained TAP funding can be applied to a “wide spectrum of agencies.”

Local governments, regional transportation authorities, transit agencies, natural resource or public land agencies, school districts, and any other local or regional entity with oversight of transportation or recreational trails can apply for the funding.

Under the SCDOT plan, projects are restricted to three specific areas: pedestrian facilities, bicycle facilities, and pedestrian streetscape projects.

SCDOT Statewide Planning Chief Mark Pleasant explained that under TAP, pedestrian facility projects would include items such as improvements to sidewalks and crosswalks, bicycle facility projects would include improved bike paths, and streetscape projects would include projects like improved lighting or signage.   

“In a general sense, you’re investing in an alternative mode of transportation. It enhances people’s mobility within a community,” Pleasant said, referring to the benefits of pedestrian and bicycle facilities. “The value is you’re providing a diversity of transportation options in a community, whether it’s by car, mass-transit, safe bike facilities, or safe pedestrian facilities.”

The funds made available via TAP were derived from the Transportation Enhancement (TE) program, a federal reimbursement program that has been discontinued. TAP redefines former TE activities and consolidates eligibility requirements with the Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails Programs. TAP was authorized under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) program, signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012. 

As part of the funding allocation process, the SCDOT is also seeking comment from the public.

“So far, we’re getting a lot of comments from the biking and walking community,” Pleasant said. “People want to emphasize the importance of investing in biking and pedestrian facilities in the state and to have support for that as a mode of transportation.”

The Santee-Lynches Regional COG, which serves as an advocate and forum for local governments in Clarendon, Kershaw, Lee, and Sumter counties, offers supporting information about TAP for public review and comment. To contact the organization, call 803-775-7381.

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