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November 25, 2013
Guidance revised for CMAQ funding

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has issued an interim revision of its guidance on the congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) program, a major source of funds for state-led transportation projects that help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. 

The FHWA made changes to the 2008 version of the guidance primarily to conform to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.  Among other additions, the revised guidance follows through on MAP-21’s stronger emphasis on the use of CMAQ funding for projects that are proven to reduce PM-2.5.

29,000 projects

The CMAQ program was established by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and continued in subsequent federal transportation legislation.  Through 2012, the program has provided states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), and other sponsors with nearly $30 billion for almost 29,000 transportation-environment projects.  MAP-21 provides just over $2.2 billion in CMAQ funding in each year of the 2013–2014 period. 

Transferability, apportionment, operating assistance

According to the FHWA, the interim guidance continues the focus the previous guidance placed on diesel retrofits and overall diesel emissions mitigation.  Overall, the FHWA has made about 12 significant revisions.  These include:

  • Transferability of CMAQ funds. A limit of 50 percent of CMAQ program funds can be transferred each year to other elements of the federal-aid highway program.  Transfer provisions do not apply to the statutory PM-2.5 priority set-aside funds. 
  • Cost effectiveness and priority use of CMAQ funds.  In addition to a broader emphasis on projects that are proven to reduce PM-2.5, the revised guidance calls for evaluation and assessment of those projects.  This includes development of graphs and tables that describe the various cost-benefit relationships of a cross-section of CMAQ project types.
  • Apportionment of funds.  Unlike previous legislation, MAP-21 does not contain a specific statutory distribution formula for CMAQ apportionment.  Instead, CMAQ apportionments are now determined using a ratio of the state’s 2009 CMAQ funding relative to the state’s total apportioned federal-aid highway program funding for 2009.
  • Priority set-aside for PM-2.5 areas.  States with PM-2.5 nonattainment or maintenance areas are required to invest a portion of their CMAQ funds on projects that reduce PM-2.5 emissions.  The interim guidance outlines potentially eligible project types.
  • Operating assistance.  Operating assistance provides funding to help start up viable new transportation services that can demonstrate air quality benefits and eventually cover costs as much as possible.  Operating assistance is limited to new transit, commuter, and intercity passenger rail services, intermodal facilities, travel demand management strategies, including traffic operation centers, inspection and maintenance programs, and the incremental cost of expanding these services.  The 3 years of operating assistance allowable under the 2008 guidance may now be spread over a longer time period, for a total of up to 5 sequential years of support.
  • Diesel retrofits.  While the previous guidance included eligibility provisions for diesel retrofit projects, the revision increases the emphasis on the use of diesel retrofits.

Other revisions address bicycle and pedestrian facilities programs; alternative fuels and vehicles; and the requirement for MPOs to develop a performance plan.

The interim guidance

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