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How Delaware made statewide bike funding history with CMAQ

In September, the Wilmington, DE, Area Planning Council (WILMAPCO) approved DelDOTs request for $480,000 in federal CMAQ funds for the final phase of the Wilmington-to-New Castle Industrial Track for fiscal year 2012. By tapping into Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement funds for bicycling projects – the first time ever in Delaware – Bike Delaware and its allies have opened the door for the future funding of bicycling projects that give people options to substitute their cars trips with enjoyable, healthy, non-polluting, non-traffic-clogging bike trips.


Every year Delaware spends about $12 million in federal CMAQ dollars. “But in the 20 year history of the CMAQ program, not one dime has ever been used for bicycling, greenways or trails in Delaware,” wrote Bike Delaware Executive Director James Wilson, “Until now. We have broken a 20 year drought and also set an immensely hopeful precedent for the future.”


A completed part of Delaware's Wilmington to New Castle trail

A little background: Federal transportation dollars are divided up into different pots of money, each with different rules and eligible project-types. Over the past twenty years, most bicycle projects have been funded out of a few dedicated programs. But bicycle projects are eligible for several other, larger pots of money for purposes such as safety, congestion reduction, and general surface transportation. It’s these larger funding sources that can really make a difference in the amount of funds dedicated to non-motorized transportation. But it also means that bike projects have to compete against a broader range of transportation projects. We believe bicycling advocates and transportation agencies have come a long way and are ready for the challenge.


As I’ve said before, accessing federal funds can be a daunting task, but it’s one with potentially game-changing pay-off. Bike Delaware has shown impressive leadership and vision in doggedly pursuing CMAQ funds for bicycling, despite no precedent in the state.


The CMAQ chapter of Bike Delaware’s ongoing effort to increase the state’s investment in bicycling and walking projects, started with a major victory. In July, after much advocacy by Bike Delaware and others,the Delaware General Assembly approved “Walkable, Bikeable Delaware” and, a month later, voted $5 million in the state budget for state bike routes. The intention from the beginning was to use that amount as matching funds for federal funding programs, like CMAQ, which require a 20 percent state or local match.


Bike Delaware had several projects prioritized and they set out to get them “programmed” – projects selected for federal funding that would then be added to the Transportation Improvement Plan. The next thing they had to do was understand how projects get programmed in Delaware.


We advise advocates to learn the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, HOW of the selection process:

  • Who makes the selection decisions?
  • What are the rules and requirements governing the selections (ie. Application form, criteria) and what are the barriers that negatively impact bike/ped?
  • When are applications due and selections made?
  • Why do some projects get selected and not others?
  • And how do bicycle and pedestrian projects compete with motorized projects?


Bike Delaware took up the task. Although the project selection process was fairly typical in its opaqueness, advocates identified the WILMAPCO Technical Advisory Committee as a key decision-making body.  With the $5 million in dedicated state funds as a source for the required 20 percent local match, advocates were able to participate in the process to get federal funds programmed and compete on something like an equal footing for the first time with other transportation projects.  The result was the breakthrough last month: Delaware’s 1st ever CMAQ-funded bike project.


As we work with advocates and agency staff across the country as part of our Advocacy Advance Action 2020 Workshops, we will be using Delaware as an example of can be accomplished with savvy and determination. We look forward to the upcoming Delaware Bike Summit on Oct 14th. We will be there to talk about federal funding opportunities and celebrating Delaware’s CMAQ break-through.

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