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The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program

CMAQ Program Assistance, Project Proposals and the Federal Aid Process

Note: This information was archived in September 2013. For current information, see

CMAQ funds are available to a wide range of government and non-profit organizations, as well as private entities contributing to public/private partnerships, but are controlled by the MPO and the State DOT. Often, these organizations plan or implement air quality programs and projects as well as provide CMAQ funding to others to implement projects.

All phases of project development are eligible for CMAQ funds. However, to keep your project eligible for reimbursement, each phase must be approved prior to spending money . . .

Organizations interested in obtaining CMAQ funding need to develop their ideas and prepare a project proposal using State DOT or MPO procedures. The project proposal must document how the project will provide emissions benefits before CMAQ eligibility is determined. Wherever possible, a quantitative emissions reduction estimate should be presented, although certain project categories, such as public education, marketing, or other outreach efforts are not easy to assess quantitatively. Instead, for these projects, a logical explanation of the emission reduction contribution and air quality benefit may be acceptable.

The process by which proposals for CMAQ funds are solicited is unique to each State and MPO. Therefore, project sponsors should pay careful attention to the submission guidelines and deadline schedules that are established in their State and/or MPO. The MPO is responsible for developing and prioritizing projects and works with the State DOT to set the CMAQ Program investment level. In some States, CMAQ funding is programmed and projects are selected every two years. Consequently, a missed deadline may create significant delays for a worthwhile CMAQ proposal.

As stated above, all projects which are to receive federal funding or approval must come from the latest conforming plan and TIP. All CMAQ projects must come from the fiscally constrained plan and TIP in order to be authorized. Authorization is the final approval that is given by FHWA or FTA. If you have a CMAQ project you would like to have funded, it must first be placed on the plan and TIP by the MPO. This process varies among MPOs and it is recommended you contact your MPO with your suggestions for CMAQ projects.

Project Development and Environmental Clearance
All federally funded projects have several stages, all of which require time, effort and coordination. The simplicity or difficulty of your project will dictate the amount of time and effort it requires. Projects funded with CMAQ must comply with laws created to protect the human and natural environment.

There are a number of major milestones that are generally required for Federal-aid projects, including those under CMAQ. The agencies approving the project have certain responsibilities, as do the project sponsors. Once the project has received an eligibility determination from the FHWA or FTA, the project sponsor will be responsible for the planning, public involvement, environmental documentation, permits and approvals, design and development of plans, creation of right-of-way plans and acquisition of property, submission of procurement, bid and construction paperwork, selecting contractors and submission of materials for invoicing and annual reporting requirements. The Federal and State agencies provide environmental, right-of-way and utility clearances, and authorization (See Figure 9).

Typical Project Development Process

Figure 9 10

Environmental clearance covers a range of activities that may be required to meet federal and state environmental laws. This includes the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106), the Uniform Relocation Act, and other relevant laws. The environmental documentation process is designed to help project sponsors and federal agencies make decisions. Compliance with NEPA is required for Federal-aid projects and can range from a simple determination of no significant impacts to a fully executed Environmental Impact Statement. Your CMAQ project will need final NEPA approval from FHWA or FTA prior to further funding. Some MPOs require NEPA to be complete prior to placing the construction phase of a project on the TIP. In order to complete the environmental clearance process you may be required to hold one or more public meetings.

If you have any right-of-way to purchase, there are established laws that must be followed prior to starting the transaction and must be completed to approve your document and fund your project.

All phases of project development are eligible for CMAQ funds. However, to keep your project eligible for reimbursement each phase must be approved prior to spending money, purchasing right-of-way or signing contracts.

Many CMAQ-eligible projects do not require all steps in the above process to be followed. In other words, certain projects can benefit from a greatly streamlined project development process (e.g., ride-sharing programs, vanpool programs, public education programs, etc.). The best course of action is to work closely with your MPO and/or State DOT to determine how best to ensure that all required legal and environmental requirements are addressed.

The CMAQ program can aid communities in improving the quality of the natural environment by reducing highway-related pollution.
10 Source: FHWA


Updated: 9/23/2013
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