Transportation Funding: Federal Money is Coming to Fund California Transportation Infrastructure, But Where is the Money Going?

In early November, a Bipartisan Federal Infrastructure Bill was signed into law. This has some positive and some concerning implications for ClimatePlanners throughout our state. Before we dive in, we should acknowledge the numerous articles that break down what exactly was in the bill, including the following links:


  • Streetsblog: How the Infrastructure Deal will make transit better?
  • NACo: Legislative Analysis of Infrastructure and Jobs Act.
  • CalBike: How will the Infrastructure bill impact Bike Riders?
  • White House factsheet: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Will Deliver for California.
  • Vox: States Have The Power to Make or Break the Infrastructure Law.

Federal Infrastructure Bill adds money and new eligibility to existing programs

In the Federal Infrastructure Bill, we see an increase in funds for many existing programs. Roads, highways, and bridges will receive around $29.5 billion over the course of five years. Public transportation and active transportation will receive around $9.5 billion and $270 million respectively. While we still see a majority of the funding going towards projects that heavily emphasize cars, and capacity increasing projects, we also see new guidelines that are more inclusive of our climate, equity, and public health goals.

Federal Infrastructure Bill adds new funding programs that are better aligned with ClimatePlan’s priorities

With this infrastructure bill, there is around $550 billion of new spending (nationwide; it is unknown how much is new for the state). Most of this new spending will specifically go towards equity, public health, and climate goals, but it is all competitive grants that the federal government controls, so funding is not guaranteed.

The table below highlights some of the key funding opportunities in the areas ClimatePlan cares the most about:

ClimatePlan priority

Federal Funding Program

Brief Description of Funding Program & Eligible Projects

Roads and Highways

Active Transportation/ Transit Capital Projects

Surface Transportation Block Grants 

One of the more flexible funding programs that funds regional and local transportation needs. Eligible projects include: 

  • Pedestrian projects.
  • Biking projects.
  • Projects to support congestion pricing.
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure. (NEW)
  • Resiliency improvements. (NEW)


Rail/Highway Crossing Program

Funds transportation projects near railroad and highway crossings. Examples of eligible projects are:
  • Visibility improvement projects, like cutting down trees.
  • Pedestrian/bike path.

Highway Safety Improvement Program

Funds transportation projects that significantly reduces traffic fatalities and significant injuries for all users. One of the relevant requirements is:

  • 15% of funds in Highway Safety Improvement Program required to go to vulnerable road users if they are at least 15% of the state's total annual fatality.

Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program (NEW)

Funds transportation projects that implement local safety initiatives to prevent death and serious injury.

Congestion/Air quality

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program

Funds transportation projects to get transportation emissions into compliance with air quality standards.

  • Pedestrian and bike infrastructure are now eligible under this program. (NEW)
  • A study on whether CMAQ projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (NEW)


Reconnecting Communities Program (NEW) 

Allocates money to planning and funding construction projects that connect communities that have been bisected by highways. This is a competitive grant.

Healthy Streets program (NEW)

Funds projects that address bad street design. This includes projects that reduce the urban heat island effect and increase air quality benefits. Counties with a disproportionate number of communities of color according to--Census blocks--are eligible to apply for this program. 

Climate and Resiliency

Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost Saving Transportation (NEW)

Funds projects that enhance transportation infrastructure assets or improves evacuation routes. This program has a formulaic and competitive component. 

Carbon Reduction Program (NEW)

Funds will be distributed according to federal guidelines and how California distributes the Surface Transportation Block Grant. Eligible projects include:

  • Public transit.
  • Replacement of street lights.

Public Transit

Climate/Air Quality

Bus and Bus Facilities Grant Program

Funds are allocated to states, local government entities, non-profits, etc to replace or purchase buses or other related equipment. Money can also go to constructing bus related facilities. Two relevant requirements include:

  • 15% of money is set aside for rural applicants. (NEW)
  • 25% of the competitive funding go towards projects to acquire low or no emission bus or bus facilities. (NEW)

Transit Capital Projects

Capital Investment Grant Program

Funds are allocated to advance or complete the construction of mass transit projects. Eligible projects includes:

  • Rail.
  • Bus rapid transit. 
  • Street cars.

Active Transportation

Active Transportation

Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act

Funds projects that improve connectivity in the active transportation network. This program is a competitive grant program. (NEW)

Shaping Funding Moving Forward

While many of the changes above are great, it does not fix the larger issue. We are continuing to fund programs that prioritize driving, disconnect communities, and increase greenhouse gas emissions. In the Federal Infrastructure bill, roads and highways will still get a significant investment over the next five years. And while there was talk about limiting the use of these funds (to non-capacity increasing projects), the bill does not have these requirements. Similarly, California has discretion on how this funding will be distributed, and whether it will be done equitably. A national analysis conducted by the Urban Institute, finds that previous infrastructure bills typically benefitted white, suburban families that have access to high quality schools and jobs. Communities of color paid a higher price and were disproportionately affected by higher pedestrian fatality rates, longer commutes, and unaffordable transit costs. 

Another concern is that this big investment is not enough to cover transportation needs. For example, the Calbike article reports that the bill's investment in active transportation infrastructure is still not enough, compared to the amount of projects that are out there and the ones that we need. Another concern is public transit funds are being held up by California’s labor law dispute. If there is not a resolution, California won’t be able to receive money set aside for public transit. We will be following these issues closely. 

As funding opportunities present themselves ClimatePlan will be advocating for: 

  1. CAPTI’s framework to be used as a means to making transportation funding decisions. 
  2. Shifting funding away from outdated and antiquated funding practices towards climate, health, and equity goals.
  3. Prioritizing frontline communities that unfairly carry the brunt of the climate crisis and historically lack investments.  

Two Opportunities for more Climate Infrastructure Funding

Build Back Better

In the Build Back Better Plan, there are many opportunities to increase money going towards climate and equity programs. Some of these programs include:

  • $9.9 billion of the New Affordable Housing Access program: This program targets underserved communities, and increases incentives and their access to affordable housing near transit.
  • $3.95 billion Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant program: This program is similar to the Reconnecting Communities within the recently passed infrastructure bill. The money will go towards increasing access for underserved communities by investing in mass modes of transit. The difference is that the money won’t go towards highway removal.

Budget Surplus

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is projecting a $31 billion budget surplus for 2022-2023. We see this as an opportunity to infuse new funds and prioritize innovative solutions to our climate and equity challenges. 

Shaping how these investments are spent will be vital. ClimatePlan is working to do a more in depth analysis of how our transportation funds will be used. Stay tuned for more on this. 

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