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Maximizing Award Success: USDOT Applicant Considerations

BENEFIT-COST ANALYSIS (BCA) | Quantify factors that could affect a project’s impact in the benefit-cost analysis to provide a clear and full picture of the project to the application reviewers. 

A benefit-cost analysis (BCA) is a systematic process for identifying, quantifying, and comparing expected benefits and costs of an investment. BCA may be used to evaluate whether a project provides significant economic benefits to users, relative to the resources required to implement that project. In other words, the goal of BCA is to help determine whether the proposed project cost is justified given its expected benefits. As applicable to the program and project type, USDOT recommends applicants’ use the BCA methodology and components outlined in the guidance document hyperlinked the end of this section. 

The benefits measure the economic value of positive outcomes that are reasonably expected to result from a project and may be experienced by the applicant, users of the transportation system, or the public at-large. Those benefits reasonably expected to result from the implementation of the project should be quantified and included in the BCA. For projects implemented in phases, the benefits over each phase or time period should be thoroughly described in the supporting documentation for the BCA. Additionally, even though some transportation improvements could be justified by describing their merit in relation to a more costly alternative that would accomplish roughly the same goal, these avoided costs should not be included in a BCA. 

Benefits could include: 

  • Value of travel time savings
  • Vehicle operating cost savings
  • Safety and emissions reduction benefits
  • Benefits to existing and new users of the project
  • Diversion of traffic across modes of transportation
  • Work zone impacts
  • Infrastructure resilience
  • Noise pollution
  • Emergency service route improvement
  • Superior quality of life
  • Increased property values

The costs should reflect the full cost of a resource or activity necessary to achieve the benefits described. Project costs typically consist of capital resources (land, labor, and materials), accounting for the market value of these resources. Applicants should include each cost regardless of who bears the burden of specific cost item (including costs paid for by Federal, State, local, and private partners). Cost data should include each aspect of the project regardless of the portion of the total cost of the project being Federally-funded. The BCA should be tied to the expected life of assets constructed or improved by the project.

Costs could include:

  • Capital expenditures: Cost of land, labor, materials, and equipment rentals used in project construction
  • Other capital costs: project planning and design, environmental reviews, land acquisition, utility relocation, or transaction costs
  • Operating and maintenance costs
  • Residual value
  • Remaining service life

It is important to note that total operating and maintenance costs may generally be lower for projects involving new construction, as newer infrastructure requires less frequent and less costly maintenance to keep it in service than would an aging, deteriorating asset. Projects that will reconstruct or rehabilitate existing infrastructure may be more likely to have higher operating and maintenance costs, compared to projects involving new construction. 

Resources: 

USDOT’s benefit-cost analysis guidance for discretionary grant programs

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND APPROVALS | Proactively identify and plan for the appropriate Federal, State, and local permits, approvals, and environmental reviews to show preparedness and readiness to implement the proposed project.

As applicable to the program and project type, applicants should consider how to articulate project readiness in an application, particularly as it relates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental requirements. The goal of a NEPA review is to identify the environmental impacts of a project and any measures that might avoid, minimize, or mitigate those impacts, and make this information available to decisionmakers and the public before final funding decisions are made. 

Prior to the submission of applications, USDOT staff or State delegates will work with applicants to determine the appropriate level of NEPA review for the project and to identify any other environmental reviews, permits, or approvals that may be required for the project. The applicant should also provide any environmental studies or other documentation that describes in detail known project impacts and possible mitigation for these impacts. Applicants, USDOT, and all other potentially involved Federal and State resources and/or regulatory agencies and Tribes will then collaborate to develop an environmental review and permitting schedule that identifies target dates for all required environmental actions. All required approvals and permits must be obtained prior to the initiation of project construction activities. The resources at the end of this section include additional guidance on meeting USDOT’s environmental requirements. 

Applicants should demonstrate, through their project schedule, application narrative, and supporting documents, that they can reasonably expect to obtain any necessary environmental approvals and permits without delaying the anticipated start of construction of a new infrastructure project. The applicant is also responsible for creating and providing a budget for the completion of all required reviews and permits. If applicable, the budget should demonstrate how costs to complete the required environmental approvals factor into the overall cost to complete the project. 

Resources:

A USDOT presentation on NEPA from a National Association of Development Organizations conference

An Environmental Review Toolkit published by FHWA

Additional information on project readiness for USDOT discretionary programs 

Right-of-way acquisition should be coordinated with USDOT and may vary by mode. Information regarding the FTA’s property acquisition requirements.

STATE DOT ENGAGEMENT | Maintain open lines of communication and engagement with State Department of Transportation counterparts to foster trust and buy-in on locally-focused projects. 

Applicants should coordinate with the relevant planning authority to make sure the project is included in the appropriate plan if this is required before Federal funding can be obligated. This could include coordination with the appropriate State Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Organization, public transportation authority, transit agency, or other State or local planning entity. 

Relationships with State entities, in particular, can be critically important to application submission, success, and post-award project completion. For example, some USDOT discretionary grant programs require applications to be submitted by the appropriate State Department of Transportation, rather than local or other State agencies. Applicant eligibility and submission information can be found on the program website and/or Notice of Funding Opportunity. 

Resources: 

The State Department of Transportation website for each U.S. State.

Additional information on State and local planning and coordination

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE | Utilize existing technical assistance provided by the Department or specific programs to maximize the chance of application success and increase awareness of important evaluation criteria in a given year. 

The Department provides varying levels of technical assistance during the application process, by operating administration and specific program. Program-specific technical assistance resources can be found on the program websites in the USDOT Modes and Resources section of this document. 

ACCESSIBILITY | Consider compliance with the Civil Rights Act and the Rehabilitation Act regarding anti-discrimination and accessibility requirements to minimize delays in project completion.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Similarly, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance. After receiving a federal award, the applicant and/or recipient contractually agrees to provide equal access to the programs or activities being funded. 

Resources: 

Additional information on the Civil Rights Act

Additional information on the Rehabilitation Act

Last updated: Friday, February 26, 2021