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May 2013 Featured Article

NJDOT GRANT FUNDING MAY REQUIRE

LOCAL ELIGIBILITY ASSESSMENT

Triad Associates

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided a large sum of federal dollars for local and state infrastructure projects. When many of these projects were audited, federal officials found that the capacity of grant recipients to maintain an appropriate document file was inadequate. Record keeping in some cases failed to provide sufficient information to track the use of funds for the project receiving grant dollars.

As a result, the federal government instituted, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is now requiring, “eligibility assessments” for many of the projects funded by local aid programs using federal dollars. The purpose of the eligibility assessment is to determine whether the appropriate protocols, staffing and other resources are in place to administer the grant dollars that might be provided to a local public agency. The NJDOT is responsible through its agreement with the Federal Highway Administration for ensuring that local entities can manage, inspect and otherwise supervise the implementation of these projects. The general requirements for project oversight and management are outlined in Title 23; 48 CFR – Federal Acquisition Regulation and 49 CFR – the Common Grant Rule.

Given that federal dollars flow to local governments in many sizes and under many program names, it is very important that your municipality’s eligibility be assessed formally by the NJDOT and that you are certified for receipt of federal funds. Basically the process works as follows:

  • The local entity (e.g., county or municipality) must complete the NJDOT Division of Local Aid and Economic Development Federal Aid Highway Program Administrative Questionnaire.

  • The completed questionnaire will then be reviewed by the NJDOT.

  • An eligibility assessment interview will be scheduled and conducted by the appropriate local aid district office of NJDOT to ensure that all of the administrative and management controls are in place. These controls include detailed procedures associated with, among other things:

    • consultant services procurement policies;
    • project management procedures;
    • protocol for making changes to project schedules and contracts; and/or
    • tracking project progress and documenting completion.
  • The district office will notify the local public agency of any deficiencies, at which time the local agency can provide an explanation or signify corrective action for any deficiency noted as a result of the assessment interview.

The local aid office will notify the division director of NJDOT of any local agency that fails to meet the eligibility certification. Eligibility determinations will be subject to periodic review and assessed on a project by project basis. Only Metropolitan Planning Organizations such as the North Jersey Transportation Authority, DVRPC or the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization are eligible to receive three year certifications.

So, what does this mean for your municipality? First of all, if you have not gotten your eligibility assessment completed you should move to do so right away. As any grant writer knows, when grant funding becomes available there is often a very compressed window within which to get the grant written and submitted to the NJDOT or U.S. Department of Transportation. That means municipalities who have completed their eligibility assessments and been approved by then NJDOT have a “leg up” on the competition for federal grant dollars.

Second, since this will probably impact all federal transportation dollars moving through the local aid program, many of the smaller NJDOT grants such as those for streetscape, bicycle, pedestrian and other improvements, through programs such as the Transportation Enhancement, will be affected. Do not assume that this requirement applies only to large local aid projects involving highways, bridges and so forth.

In this era of declining grant dollars it is more important than ever that municipalities, counties and other eligible local public agencies stay on top of grant funding rules, regulations and protocols in order to ensure that they can compete for increasingly scarce funding resources.

 

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