Community choices for Idaho: Idaho’s community program

At the annual conference of the Idaho chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-Idaho), Ted Vanegas  presented on the Community Choices for Idaho (CCI) program. A Senior Transportation Planner with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), Vanegas used this session to share the history of the program and how it advances ITD’s strategic goals of mobility, safety, and economic opportunity.

What is Community Choices for Idaho?

According to Vanegas, CCI is a unique program which helps Idaho communities address local mobility and access issues, as well as providing an entry to ITD’s alternative transportation funding programs. The program annually solicits projects and links them to potential funding. This enhances ITD’s ability to leverage all funding sources for locally sponsored projects. It also improves project outcomes by providing technical assistance and project vetting, and by providing communities with technical resources to help prioritize and meet their needs.

Vanegas also described the process in building the program, including getting permission from the Idaho Transportation Board, forming a startup committee with stakeholders, developing the program based on recommendations, and finally going back to the Board for approval. He shared the processes for application, evaluation, project selection, and future opportunities with the program.

Funding

Currently, funding for CCI comes through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and other federally funded programs. According to Vanegas, continued funding is a concern since TAP money is not guaranteed. ITD is exploring other funding options through the Idaho ADA Curb Ramp program and the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program.

Between 70 and 90 percent of the funds go toward improving community infrastructure, including everything from off-road bicycle routes, safe routes for non-drivers, and historical preservation along routes. The remaining money goes toward programs like school-sponsored events, such as bicycle rodeos.

Application

Cities, transit agencies, public lands agencies, school districts, schools, and any local or regional government agency that deals with some form of transportation are invited to apply for the grants. A board made up of about a dozen people including health care officials, sporting enthusiasts, and educators determines who receives the money based on need.

Challenges

Soon after the program was announced, Progress on the Idaho Transportation Alternatives shared the excitement around the funding support for “local tools such as Safe Routes to School, transportation enhancements, scenic byways and recreational trails”. While the enthusiasm is welcome, the program is still working through growing pains.

As can happen with many new programs, the first year revealed opportunities for improvement. Vanegas shared that coordination and cooperation needs to be enhanced between IDT’s headquarters and its district offices, which are responsible for providing the communities with technical help. Even the relationships and communication between ITD and the local communities can be improved.

Besides the continual search for funding and technical support for the communities, ITD also sees the need to improve education about CCI by using partners such as Idaho Smart Growth and other agencies.

Status of CCI Projects

So what’s happening with the first group of submissions? An IDT committee met in October and scored 64 applications for TAP funding. For examples from Ada and Canyon Counties, click here to see projects recommended for funding or placed on a waiting list. Those selected for funding will be determined in December 2013.

A Tool for Planners

As monies for local projects continue to be evasive, planners in Idaho are encouraged to learn all they can about CCI and how it can benefit communities around the state. For more information about CCI, visit the IDT web site for the program guide and schedule.

Additional Resources

For more information about federal programs mentioned in this blog, visit these links:

Ted Vanegas, Senior Transportation Planner with ITD, focuses on statewide transit and bicycle/pedestrian programs.

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