Access to Transit Program

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The 2020 Access to Transit call for projects closed on May 8th. Please contact Alex Devlin, Senior Planner at DevlinA@RTAChicago.org with any questions.

Access to Transit Program Guide

The following table shows the timeline for evaluating, funding, and implementing projects. 

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About the Program

The RTA launched the Access to Transit program in 2012 to provide funding for small-scale capital projects that improve pedestrians' and bicyclists' access to public transportation. For certain project types, the program leverages RTA and local funds with federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funding to help implement recommendations from planning studies completed through the RTA Community Planning program or CMAP Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program.

To date, the Access to Transit program has funded 28 projects in communities throughout the region for a total investment of roughly $13 million in Federal, RTA and local funds. Detailed information on past projects is available on RTAMS.org.

Investing in pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure around transit provides a number of benefits for both local communities and the RTA system, such as:

  • Increased transit ridership, which helps reduce congestion and vehicle emissions
  • Better first and last mile connections that make it safer and easier for riders to get to and from transit service
  • Lower demand for commuter parking
  • Pedestrian friendly neighborhoods that promote public health through active transportation
  • Support for transit-oriented development by fostering active, walkable places

The RTA selects Access to Transit projects via a competitive process according to the criteria detailed below, consistent with CMAQ program requirements.

Funding for the projects selected will depend on the proposed activities. For applicants seeking Phase I engineering and construction funding, the RTA staff will combine all selected projects into a single CMAQ applicant. Project funding is contingent on the application being approved for the FFY2022-26 CMAQ program, which is finalized in the fall of 2021. If CMAQ funding is approved, projects are transferred to their respective sponsors who are then responsible for implementation. Applicants seeking only Phase I engineering will receive funding directly from the RTA and will not be included in the combined CMAQ application.

Eligible Applicants

The Access to Transit program is open to municipalities and counties that have completed, or are in the process of completing, a planning or implementation project through either the RTA Community Planning program, the CMAP LTA Program, or other community planning efforts. The plans should specifically recommend bicycle and/or pedestrian access improvements to transit. This includes communities that have participated in corridor studies as a partner. Applicants seeking only Phase I engineering can submit projects from any adopted plan, including those outside of the RTA and CMAP programs. Applicants must have CTA, Metra, or Pace service in their community and be located within the RTA’s six-county service area (Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane, Will).

Eligible Projects

To be eligible for the Access to Transit program, projects should meet criteria in one of the two following categories:

Category A: Bicycle and Pedestrian Accessibility

Eligible projects must demonstrate the ability to increase ridership, improve access to existing transit services, and contribute to reduced vehicle emissions. Furthermore, the RTA may request that applicants revise their proposals after submittal to align with CMAQ program requirements. Phase I engineering is required to be complete prior to the RTA submitting the CMAQ application in fall of 2020.

Applications for Category A projects will be accepted if Phase I engineering is complete, or if preliminary planning is complete so the project can move immediately into Phase I engineering. Phase I engineering is required to begin immediately after the RTA confirms the project is selected by the Access to Transit program, with a goal of obtaining Phase I approval prior to the CMAQ application deadline (see Program Timeline for more details). Applicants will be removed from the RTA Access to Transit Program if the June 2021 CMAP Phase I Engineering deadline is not met.

Individually or combined, the following improvements are eligible for Category A:

  • Crosswalks, pedestrian signal heads, sidewalk connections, wayfinding signage
  • ADA accessibility improvements,
  • Bicycle infrastructure
  • Bus stop infrastructure, rail warming shelters
  • Micromobility projects (bike- or scooter-sharing)
  • Other innovative projects that support small-scale access improvements to transit

Funding Guidelines for Category A

  • Project budget must be no greater than $1 million and no less than $150,000.
  • For most projects, the 20% local match required by CMAQ will be shared equally by the RTA and the applicant, with each covering 10% of the total project cost.
  • The RTA may provide the full 20% local match for communities that are smaller and/or have lower tax bases or median incomes based on the economic and demographic characteristics of the area served. Eligible applicants may contact the RTA to determine if they qualify for this exemption.
  • If Phase I engineering is necessary, it must be funded by the applicant, because CMAQ funding cannot be used for this purpose.

Phase I Engineering Requirements for Category A

Applications for Category A projects will be accepted if Phase I engineering is complete or preliminary planning is complete and the project can move immediately into Phase I engineering. Phase I engineering must begin immediately after the RTA confirms the project is selected to the Access to Transit program, with a goal of obtaining Phase I approval by the CMAQ application deadline (see Program Timeline for more details). Applicants will be removed from the RTA Access to Transit Program if Phase I engineering is not complete prior to the CMAQ application deadline.

Phase I engineering is required to be completed in a manner that preserves eligibility for federal funding. This requires the work to be completed by local government staff or by a consulting firm hired under a Qualification Based Selection (QBS) process. These requirements are available in the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Bureau of Local Roads Manual (Chapter 5, Section 5.06).

Category B: Phase I Engineering of Bicycle and Pedestrian Accessibility

To address a frequent barrier to securing funding and completing projects, the 2020 Access to Transit Program will accept applications for Phase I engineering from communities of high need. Such projects must meet Category A criteria for improving bicycle and pedestrian accessibility. Eligible applicants should contact the RTA to determine if they qualify for Category B. Successful applicants in Category B may qualify for full reimbursement of the costs associated with developing Phase I engineering through an engineering firm. Category B funding is allocated exclusively for communities with lower tax bases or median incomes based on the economic and demographic characteristics of the area served. Additionally, completed Category B projects may be considered for additional future funding through Category A.

Funding Guidelines for Category B  

  • Project budget must be no greater than $50,000 and no less than $5,000.
  • Any applicant seeking only Phase I engineering will receive funding directly from the RTA and will not be included in the combined CMAQ application with Category A applicants.

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Project Selection Process

RTA staff and representatives from CMAP and the Service Boards (CTA, Metra, and Pace) will review applications. Applications will first be screened for eligibility and then selected based on the project’s readiness, ability to increase ridership, local support, and Service Board support.

For Category A, if a project is selected for the Access to Transit program and the RTA secures CMAQ funding for it, the project is successfully funded. The project sponsor (i.e., the applicant) is then responsible for working with IDOT to oversee the project to completion. The RTA requires all project sponsors to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that confirms the local match funding arrangement and the program standards. Project sponsors are reimbursed by the RTA for the predetermined local match contribution according to the invoicing process established in the IGA.

For Category B, accepted projects will enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the RTA that confirms the local match funding arrangement and the project standards. Once an IGA has been executed, the applicant can begin procuring engineering services. Project sponsors are reimbursed by the RTA for the predetermined local match contribution according to the invoicing process established in the IGA after receiving approval from the RTA. If a proposed project includes the right-of-way of another entity (County DOT, Metra, IDOT, etc.) applicants should submit letters of support or interest with the application.

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Project Examples

The City of Palos Heights received funding through Access to Transit to improve access to Pace Routes #383 and #386, as recommended in the Harlem Avenue Corridor Plan, which was funded through the RTA’s Community Planning program. The project consists of new sidewalks, crosswalk striping and countdown pedestrian signals at several locations along Harlem and Ridgeland Avenues. Pace Routes #383 and #386 serve a number of important destinations, such as Midway Airport, CTA and Metra rail stations, Toyota Park, and several major employers and shopping centers.

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A new crosswalk at Harlem Avenue in Palos Heights provides better access to Pace's South Harlem route

The City of Rolling Meadows received funding through Access to Transit to improve pedestrian connectivity along a two-mile stretch of Golf Road, which is home to several major employers and served by three Pace fixed routes: #208, #575 and #606. By installing crosswalks, sidewalks, countdown pedestrian signals, and concrete pads for bus shelters, access between bus stops and office parks on this busy corridor has greatly improved, encouraging more employees to commute by transit. The project is based on recommendations in the Golf Road Transit and Pedestrian Mobility Study, completed with RTA Community Planning assistance.

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A sidewalk and crosswalk along a two-mile section of Golf Road in Rolling Meadows that is served by three Pace bus routes

The Village of Mount Prospect was awarded funding through Access to Transit to construct concrete pads, bike racks and covered shelters at three locations that added roughly 60 new bicycle parking spaces at the Mount Prospect Metra station on the UP Northwest line, which is also served by Pace Routes #234 and #694. The shelters feature solar-powered lighting and have been popular among bicyclists since opening in the fall of 2017. This project was based on recommendations from the Mount Prospect Downtown Implementation Plan that the Village completed with assistance from the RTA’s Community Planning program.

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A new bicycle parking shelter on Prospect Avenue in Mount Prospect next to the Metra station platforms

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