Project Development: How to Approach it

I can’t tell you how many times that I have met with Mayors, and Public Works Directors who have told me about a well intentioned citizen, or community organization that is coming down on them to “apply for free money” to get their pet project completed. In just about every instance these well meaning people are chasing an internet “shiney illusion”. It is either some program that really doesn’t fit their project, or an existing program that they already have projects involved with.

I have said this before, and I will say it again. If you are a community leader and looking for “free government money”: Beware. If you look for the money first, then create a project based around the funding, that may not work out well. All of these “free government money” programs are never really “free”. There is usually a local match, and there are always costs of time and resources to get them.

On the other hand if you develop the project first, THEN start looking for any State or Federal funds that you can use to help fund it, you have a much better chance of avoiding problems.

What I mean by “developing” a project is this:

  1. Go through a systematic process of prioritizing your projects. A Transportation-Land Use Master plan can be a great tool for doing this. As part of this process you look at ALL of the available transportation needs, and balance these needs based upon good estimates of what the potential costs will be. Having this as part of a public meeting would be a great idea. Be sure to get pictures and document this meeting for later on.
  2. Once your top priorities are set then get a good solid engineering estimate of what the total project costs would be. Doing this on the front end, can save you a ton of money and a lot of headache on the back end. This gives you additional information to make better decisions.
  3. Then look for potential funding sources for the project. TDOT has a host of transportation funds for communities across the State, so does the USDA. Just be clear on what the real costs of taking the grant money are on the front end. It may save time, headaches, and money to NOT take any grant money for the project and just use local funding instead. Do not be distracted by the amount of money that will be provided as a grant. Instead focus on what the total costs will be, and more importantly what your local share will be and what parts of the project will not be funded by the grant. What are you going to be on the hook for?

Now I am most decidedly NOT against State or Federal funding of projects. That is what I do every day, and is how I earn my paycheck! I work hard to help my communities understand what they are getting into on the front end. Nobody likes surprises, especially when they are costly.


About arran375

I work for Askew, Hargraves, Harcourt and Associates, Inc. here in Nashville, Tennessee. The short version of what I do is that we help local governments spend the Federal funds they get from TDOT on road, and bridge projects.
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