Safe Routes to School Grants: Strategies and Tips

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has announced the Fiscal Year 2012 NJDOT federal-aid Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program. Please view the full announcement here: http://tinyurl.com/5srfm42

Below are some important points about the grant application process:

  • Projects must be located within two miles of any school that serves students in grades K-8.
  • Funding for the FY 2012 SRTS Program will be available for the construction of infrastructure projects only.
  • Urban Aid Communities and municipalities containing Schools Development Authority Districts may apply for design as well as construction funds through this program. All municipalities are eligible to apply for construction funds.
  • Funds from the SRTS Program are provided on a reimbursement basis only. Before applying, applicants should assess their capability to comply with state and federal requirements. For more information, please see Local Aid’s SRTS Grant Application Handbook on the NJDOT website located at http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/business/localaid/srts.shtm
  • Applications must be completed and submitted by December 30, 2011. Applications must be submitted using the Department’s on-line electronic grants administration system, SAGE. For more information on SAGE, please see the Local Aid web site at http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/business/localaid/
  • Extra consideration will be given to projects located in disadvantaged communities and/or communities with a Complete Streets Policy.
  • Nonprofits that are interested in applying for SRTS funding under this grant should call Michael Cushman at 609-530-3640 in NJDOT Division of Local Aid to alert him of your request.

How to Increase Your Chances of Receiving a Grant

 Approval from All Parties:

One of the most important things an applicant can do is to make sure they have up-front approval from all stakeholders eventually involved in the implementation of a project, advises Leigh Ann Von Hagen, SRTS project manager with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “As a start, school and municipal officials must work together to make a SRTS project a success,” she said. “Sidewalks and other infrastructure are a municipal responsibility, but the schools are responsible for student safety.  You can’t have one without the other.”  Involve as many parties as possible, including principals and/or superintendents, school administrators, police, municipal  planners and engineers, council members,  parents, community members, and local businesses.  It is beneficial to show evidence of support from every group.  Letters of commitment, especially from the school board and municipality, are proof that everyone is behind your project.   Elise Bremer-Nei, the NJDOT’s coordinator for the SRTS program, said, “Several of the applicants in the first round of applications failed to include resolutions that showed the school and the town were working together on the issues.”

A Comprehensive Program:

A good grant proposal outlines a comprehensive SRTS program.  This calls for a combination of infrastructure and non-infrastructure elements.  When applying to fund infrastructure projects, a good proposal will demonstrate that there is also a plan to implement education, encouragement, and enforcement projects.

Include a School Travel Plan:

Developing a travel plan will help ensure a comprehensive SRTS program.  A school travel plan shows problem travel areas around the schools and identifies solutions following the 5 E’s: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Encouragement, and Evaluation.  Any projects included in funding requests should be explained in a travel plan.  A guide to developing a SRTS Travel plan can be downloaded from NJDOT’s SRTS website at http://www.nj.gov/transportation/community/srts/started.shtm.

Identify Related Past Activities or Future Plans:

Another way for an applicant to reinforce a commitment to comprehensiveness is to describe related past activities or outline a plan for future activities beyond the application. Perhaps in the past, the school or town has participated in bicycle rodeos or International Walk to School Days, or even started a walking school bus.  These types of activities demonstrate commitment, and help to make your plan comprehensive.  If the applicant has not shown any effort to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in the past, it is extremely important to document the reasons for this and to compensate for that deficiency by mapping out a plan to do so in the future.

Additional Suggestions:

After reviewing past applications, Elise Bremer-Nei has described the qualities of applicants that stood out: “The best applications either identified severe problems that they could not solve on their own, or they had thought out all of the issues and attempted to address many of them themselves.”  For more expensive infrastructure projects, applicants should organize their project into phases costing no more than $250,000 each.

For all projects, Federal authorization is necessary before any work on the project may begin.  Authorization must be obtained from the Federal Highway Administration within two years of being awarded a grant.  Applicants should also keep in mind that the federal-aid SRTS program is a reimbursement program.  They will have to budget for and pay expenses and can only be reimbursed after Federal approval.

Give It Another Go:

If your application was not funded in past rounds, don’t despair.  Take this time to strengthen your last application either by creating a school travel plan or improving your record of related past activities and future plans.

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