Money from the federal infrastructure law that passed last year is about to rain down, and the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization is getting its buckets ready to catch some for Greater Waco.
The MPO policy board on Thursday discussed strategies for maximizing new federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations, as well as infrastructure projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions and stitching together neighborhoods ripped up by road projects of the past.
All those initiatives would be funded through the new law, which includes $550 billion in new spending over five years.
The MPO staff last week applied for a $700,000 planning grant through the act’s $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program.
MPO Director Mukesh Kumar said the planning process will seek multiple “low-cost, high-impact” opportunities to ease barriers between neighborhoods and the services residents need. He said road planning of past decades has created a “thousand cuts” that has made mobility difficult for people without ready access to cars, and a “course correction” is needed.
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“We decided that simply applying for a large marquee project did not make sense for us,” Kumar said.
A consultant will work with an MPO steering committee to identify projects that could qualify for further federal funds.
Projects could include walkways at the Irving Lee Street underpass on Interstate 35 to improve access to the H-E-B on South Valley Mills Drive, or pedestrian improvements around the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Kumar said the staff is also looking at how to connect Bellmead neighborhoods that are fragmented by a triangle of busy highways: Interstate 35, Loop 340 and Highway 84.
Affected cities would be responsible for applying for federal implementation grants to fund the improvements.
The MPO is also expecting $549,084 per year in the next five years through the infrastructure law’s Carbon Reduction Program. The money could go to any project that reduces or offsets carbon emissions from vehicles, such as tree-planting, sidewalks or public transit improvements.
The board on Thursday agreed to a process by which the MPO will seek applications from the MPO’s members, which include McLennan County and its 19 cities. The MPO’s technical committee will evaluate the projects and send them to the policy board.
The policy board also continued discussions Thursday about the opportunity for more electrical vehicle charging stations to be funded by the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, part of the infrastructure law.
The Waco area could be eligible for $1.8 million in support of new charging stations under the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan to implement the program. TxDOT will start taking applications soon from businesses willing to install them while paying 20% of the cost. The Waco MPO will review those applications and advise TxDOT on local priorities for where charging stations should go before awarding the grants.
Kumar said he wants to ensure stations are available in low-income areas. He said local cities could encourage widespread distribution of charging stations by requiring them in newly built parking lots of a certain size.
The Waco MPO policy board Thursday also gave its informal support to a plan for the MPO to create a local fund to help communities pay for their local match, which is usually 20% of the infrastructure law’s grants.
Based on a $100,000-a-year contribution to the fund, the city of Waco would chip in $50,000, McLennan County would pay $26,000 and Waco’s larger suburbs would pay $4,000 each.
The board will vote on the plan in November.
“We have a lot of programs coming forward and we want to get our share,” said Waco City Council member Jim Holmes, chair of the policy board. “It does makes sense to have a little fund ready to go.”
The infrastructure law’s title is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and Biden administration material regularly refers to it as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” It received the votes of 19 Republican senators in a 69-30 passage in August of last year, and the votes of 13 Republican House members in a 228-206 passage in November, with six Democrats opposed.