America’s cities, towns and villages have made the need for a federal transportation partnership model clear, particularly one that meets local governments where they are. In response, Congress appropriated $25 million for the new Thriving Communities Program, and this year the U.S. Department of Transportation is setting it in motion.

The Thriving Communities Program is structured to ensure that any community — no matter how small or disadvantaged — can access the technical tools and capacity to compete for federal programs and deliver quality infrastructure projects for their communities. Thriving Communities can supercharge a community’s capacity to take on transformative transportation projects, from concept to completion, while Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs have available funding.

Getting started
The Thriving Communities Program is seeking Letters of Interest from communities to share their transportation goals and vision in exchange for possibly winning support from a team of transportation experts and support staff paid for by USDOT, along with the ability to hire local community firms to help with the work for two years.

The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 6 (EST), using the USDOT’s online webform.

There are no extensive application or federal match requirements. Technical assistance will be provided to 30 or more chosen communities that will receive two years of detailed assistance to help them plan and develop a pipeline of comprehensive transportation, housing and community revitalization activities.

The USDOT will prioritize communities that have had limited past success in applying for or receiving federal transportation funding, or in successfully delivering integrated infrastructure and community development projects. The department will also be targeting support to assist disadvantaged communities, which can be confirmed using these federal tools:
DOT mapping tool for Historically Disadvantaged Communities
Areas of Persistent Poverty Table
• Other federally designated community development zones (e.g., Empowerment Zones, Promise Zones or Choice Neighborhoods)

Communities are also advised to be clear about which of three identified “Communities of Practice” they should affiliate with — Main Streets, Complete Neighborhoods, or Networked Communities — picking the one that makes sense based on community type (such as urban or rural) and type of transportation project (for example, freight projects may be best in Networked Communities).

Main Streets is focused on Tribal and rural communities and the interconnected transportation, housing, community and economic development issues they face.

Complete Neighborhoods is focused on urban and suburban communities located within metropolitan areas working to better coordinate transportation with land use, housing and economic development.

Networked Communities is focused on communities located near ports, airports, and freight and rail facilities to address mobility, access, environmental justice, and economic issues, including leveraging their proximity to these facilities for wealth-building and economic development opportunities.

Preparing a Letter of Interest
The USDOT website lays out the Letter of Interest process. Local leaders are advised to read pages 1 to 21 of the program’s Call for Letters of Interest and the full explanation so they can think about what they need to gather and who to involve.

The task that may take the earliest coordination is picking a team. The local government will be the lead applicant, but the USDOT is asking for the community to identify at least two Community Partnerships to join with the local government in its Letter of Interest.

Community Partnerships likely are “organizations working with or located in the identified focus area to collectively advance technical, organizational, and community capacity to advance a pipeline of comprehensive, community-driven infrastructure and community development projects.”

Communities are advised to pick at least two other organizations that are important implementation partners; can help to supplement local capacity; or can ensure that those who live in disadvantaged communities have a voice at the table.

Community Partners may include nonprofits, private sector firms (like a transportation planning or engineering firm), community-based organizations, labor unions, advocacy groups, other government entities, chambers of commerce, major employers, academic or other anchor institutions, and philanthropic organizations.

These partners should be prepared to give local or regional technical assistance, planning and capacity-building support for the project.

The core element of a Letter of Interest is the Needs Statement and Vision Statement (500 words or less for each).

A Needs Statement should include:
• Key challenges or needs (transportation, equity, environmental, health and safety, housing, and/or economic) that the identified community faces, including those caused by harmful historic or current policies (e.g., displacement, discrimination, segregation, exclusionary zoning) that could be addressed through the TCP
• Technical or capacity challenges the applicant or community has faced when seeking federal funding or delivering transportation projects, or in trying to coordinate infrastructure projects with broader community and economic development efforts
• Any infrastructure projects that may be planned or underway, and specific or anticipated challenges the local team may face in funding or implementing these projects (if applicable)
A Vision Statement should include:
• Community and/or organizational goals to be advanced through participation in the TCP
• Why the key community partners were chosen and how the assembled team will be able to successfully work together to meet identified goals
• Ways in which traditionally underrepresented voices and community stakeholders, including but not limited to those with Limited English Proficiency and those with disabilities, will be engaged in the technical assistance, planning, and capacity-building process throughout the two-year period

The USDOT set up a Letter of Interest Worksheet to help applicants.

Questions can be sent to

A version of this story originally appeared on the National League of Cities website.