STP stands for Surface Transportation Funding. You can google it to find out more about the legal details of what it covers, what projects are eligible, and the legislative authority it comes from. For our purposes I will try and explain it in more practical terms.
Ok, think of it this way. We all pay gas and other tax’s and it all goes into one big bucket of money in Washington with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for transportation projects. They in turn, through some formula, give all of the States their own big bucket of money out of the big bucket in Washington.
With me so far? So Tennessee gets it’s big bucket of money, and divides it up into several other buckets. TDOT keeps a large portion of this to maintain the interstates and state routes. But, they also give out buckets of money.
There are 11 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO’s)in Tennessee (Memphis, Jackson, Cleveland, Nashville, Clarksville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Lakeway, Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol). Based on population they each get a big bucket of money to use on road, bridge, transit, ITS (intelligent transportation systems), and enhancement projects.
The big MPO’s are not the only communities that get STP funds though. All cities with populations over 5,000 people also get buckets of STP funds in various sizes.
Sounds simple right? Let’s go build stuff right? Well….maybe not so much.
Anytime the FHWA gives TDOT federal money theys say to us “…ok TDOT we gave you this money, but since it is Federal money you now have to stand in our shoes and follow ALL of the Federal laws on how to spend it.”
Not so bad. Here in Nashville, we (TDOT) has a building full of civil servants that know how to do this.
The trick is this: When TDOT gives MPO’s or smaller cities STP , or for that matter any Federal funding they are saying this. “…ok, here is this money, but if you want to manage the project yourself (locally managed program process), you are now are in our shoes, and have to follow all of the Federal AND TDOT laws and rules.”
That is the hard part. That is why I started this blog. This is where you can really mess things up.
I like to tell people “…ok, if this starts to make sense on how to spend your Federal money, IMMEDIATELY STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, AND CALL ME ON THE PHONE BECAUSE YOU ARE ABOUT TO JEOPARDIZE THE FUNDING FOR THE PROJECT!”
This is kind of an exageration, but not by much. I hope that helps. I will be getting in to far more detail on how things actually work.