Almost like Oprah distributing free cars, the Secretary of Transportation emails out "NOFO"s to a giant audience of states, counties, cities, tribes, and other public-sector entities across the United States. You get a NOFO! And you get a NOFO! And you get a NOFO!

A NOFO is Notice of Funding Opportunity. It's the way by which the process of competitively awarding federal funds is started. And it's the way by which much of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is being distributed. Since the passage of the "BIL" in 2021, the NOFOs have been coming fast and furious. I've found it almost tiring to watch them go out, as each triggers a large amount of work on short deadlines by all the states, counties, cities, etc. that want to make a serious attempt to apply and win some of the funds.

This past Thursday, the USDOT emailed out the NOFO for the next round of the Safe Streets and Roads for All program. The "BIL" allocated $5 billion dollars to running the SS4A program for 5 years, with the goal of "prevent[ing] roadway deaths and serious injuries."

Yes, there are a ton of acronyms in the world of transportation — more importantly, there is also a ton of funding behind each of the acronyms at this moment in time. (There are five billion — with a "B" — dollars allocated just to this one SS4A acronym.)

I keep hammering on this point because it's relevant to Alameda.

City of Alameda recently tried but failed to receive funds from the SS4A program to improve traffic safety along Lincoln Ave. Looks like it's now time to try again.

Or based on whatever feedback the city received from its last application, perhaps it's worth considering if another traffic safety project in the city is worth pursuing in an application for this cycle?

Ideally city staff could even identify a project that involves cross-boundary collaboration — say, with our neighbors in Oakland (although that is probably easier to do for a water taxi pilot or a sea-level rise grant application than it is for a street safety project).

In any case, promptly and seriously pursuing these grant applications when they are tossed out via email does require sufficient staff time. And sufficient staff time is required to keep all of the other ongoing operations and projects going at the same time.

Oftentimes I hear public comments that worry about the costs of large capital projects — like the Oakland-Alameda Estuary Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that is currently in planning. But the $1.2 trillion "BIL" and all of these NOFOs are reminders that when good projects are planned, then external funding can be found to build the projects. The capital cost of construction isn't inconsequential — but in my mind, it's not the critical question.

Getting to the point of having a project that is worthwhile (in terms of climate change, in terms of traffic safety, in terms of equity), that has broad and deep buy-in (maybe not from 100% of public commenters but certainly from key stakeholders), and that is articulated in plans that are sufficiently detailed to submit for funding... all of those steps do require time from staff (in addition to time from stakeholders, time for expected complications, and time for unexpected complications). The cost of this time is minor compared to the overall capital costs of resulting projects — but these minor costs are where consequential decisions are made about what seeds will be planted to grow into realized infrastructure improvements. To be frank, I'm not concerned about the city finding external funding for the estuary bridge — I'm concerned about the city providing its staff with sufficient internal resources in the meantime to move forward multi-decade improvements like the bridge, multi-year projects like the water taxi and major-corridor safety improvements like Lincoln Ave, and overdue "quick-build" projects on neighborhood streets like the next phase of the Slow Streets program.

So the comparison with Oprah isn't so apt, as the US Department of Transportation isn't tossing out actual funding to the audience. They're tossing out invitations to play to win. I'll end this blog post the same way I concluded one last week: Do Alameda's City Council and City Manager want to compete effectively to secure as much of this funding as possible to fix and improve local infrastructure for ourselves and our neighbors?