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Guiding Principles and Questions for Transportation Enhancement Activities

Originally posted March 23, 2005

Purpose of Guiding Principles and Questions

The purpose of these Guiding Principles and Questions is to supplement the current Transportation Enhancement (TE) Guidance and to assist potential project sponsors, the States, and FHWA divisions in resolving project eligibility questions arising under the TE activities. The guiding principles clarify the general parameters of eligibility. The guiding questions are intended to help the decisionmaker assess how the proposed project meets the principles, and to assess some aspects of project viability. These guiding principles and questions provide a framework to help determine project eligibility and viability, when reviewing and advancing proposed projects.


Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities have been eligible for funding under the Surface Transportation Program (STP) since its inception under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991; P.L.102-240. FHWA initially provided limited TE implementation guidance.

TE activities came under closer scrutiny by Congress and various interests, expressing concerns that Federal-aid highway funds were being used for activities not serving a transportation purpose. On June 6, 1995, FHWA issued guidance stating specifically that TE activities "must have a direct relationship to the intermodal transportation system." Some viewed this link as too tight or narrow.

In 1998, Congress amended the definition of TE activities by inserting the phrase "relates to surface transportation" as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21); P.L.105-178. FHWA views this phrase as a more flexible standard than the "direct relationship" standard. Congress also added two eligible categories (safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, and transportation museums), and modified others (scenic or historic highway program tourist and welcome centers, and reduce wildlife mortality). On December 17, 1999, FHWA issued new TE Guidance, replacing the 1995 guidance and reflecting the amendments enacted in TEA-21.

The following Guiding Principles and Guiding Questions are in two parts: 1) general principles and questions for TE projects, and 2) specific principles and questions for each of the 12 eligible categories.

General Principles and Questions for TE Projects

Eligibility Principles

Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities benefit the traveling public and help communities to increase transportation choices and access, enhance the built and natural environment, and provide a sense of place. To be eligible for funding, a TE project must fit into one or more of the 12 eligible categories and relate to surface transportation (see 23 U.S.C. 101(a)(35)).

TE projects may be enhancements added to larger Federal-aid highway projects, or may be independent projects unrelated to highway projects. TE funds may not substitute for other Federal-aid highway funds for project elements or mitigation that normally would be required in a regular highway project.

TE funds cannot be used for the ongoing administrative or operating expenses for a State's TE program, for consultants to help administer the State's program, or to conduct general training on administering the TE program. See FHWA Policy on Indirect Costs (see the last section of the policy memo). Consultants may be hired to help administer the State's TE program using nonfederal funds.

However, under 23 U.S.C. 504(e), TE funds may be used for direct educational expenses for surface transportation workforce development, training, and education, provided the activity specifically benefits eligible TE activities. Direct costs include training costs, conference and registration fees, and travel costs, but not salaries. See Transportation Enhancements Guidance Supplement - Surface Transportation Workforce Development, Training, and Education. [Paragraph added 01/18/06]

TE funds are public funds, and must benefit the public interest. Where private investment or joint use activities are part of the TE project proposal, TE funds are limited to the portions of the project that primarily benefit the public interest. Privately or commercially used portions of a project must have private investment. See TE Q&A #17 and TE Q&A #29.

The TE project agreement must provide for continued maintenance and operation of the TE funded facility over its economic or useful life. The economic or useful life may be negotiated based on the nature and magnitude of the project expenditure and generally accepted life cycle norms.

TE funds may not be used for routine maintenance (except as explained in Maintenance and Operations), but TE funds may be used for major resurfacing, rehabilitation, or reconstruction for trails, bridges, buildings, or other structures. See TE Q&A #35.

Some TE projects are located on property easements, or sometimes the public use may need to be converted to private use. The project agreement must specify provisions for a pro rata payback of TE funds if conversion to private use might take place before the end of the economic or useful life of the project.

For information on Transit Enhancements, see Transit Enhancements Administered by the Federal Transit Administration and FHWA Transportation Enhancements and FTA Transit Enhancements Compared.

Guiding Questions for Eligibility and Viability

The guiding questions are intended to help assess how proposed projects meet the principles, and to assess some aspects of project viability. Prospective TE project sponsors should be able to respond appropriately to the guiding questions below. Some questions may not be applicable to particular activities or projects. State TE managers and FHWA divisions should confer on the relevance of specific questions when clarification is needed about the eligibility or viability of a proposed activity or project.

Next Page: Specific Principles and Questions for each of the 12 Eligible Categories
Updated: 03/30/2017
Updated: 3/30/2017
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