The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded Main Street America nearly $6 million to help more than 60 rural and Tribal communities as part of its Thriving Communities Program. 

“The historic investments we are making in America’s infrastructure must reach the communities that need them the most,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement. “With the new Thriving Communities program, we are helping under-resourced communities better access federal funding for transportation projects that will create jobs, improve safety, and strengthen their economies.” 

Main Street America is working with several partners on the project. 

“We are thrilled to have been chosen to participate in the Thriving Communities program,” said Hannah White, interim president and CEO at Main Street America in a statement. “In lockstep with our expert partners and community leaders, we look forward to delivering needed technical assistance with a strong emphasis on equity practices and building networks across diverse geographies to downtowns and commercial districts that have been under-resourced for too long.” 

“This cohort is focused on rural and Tribal communities, specifically, across the country,” Owen Griffith, fund development specialist at Rural Community Assistance Partnership Incorporated (RCAP), told the Daily Yonder. “We’re going to be working with them on all of these interconnected needs as far as transportation, community, housing, economic development, and other areas of infrastructure.” RCAP is one of the partners of Main Street America on this project.

Sarah Buck, chief program officer at RCAP, said details still need to be worked out, but the program is focused on training and technical assistance. 

“So that’s the thing with a lot of rural and Tribal communities is that they do not have the internal capacity to have people that are researching or writing grants or to do a number of these things,” she told the Daily Yonder. “A big piece of that is going to be helping them to leverage state and federal funds to then fund those projects, which is something that we do a lot of in the water, wastewater, and solid waste space, and are really starting to expand to do more of that in the broader community development space.”

She added that last fiscal year, RCAP helped rural and Tribal communities leverage almost $700 million in infrastructure funds from state, federal and other sources, mostly for water, wastewater, and solid waste projects. 

One challenge that can come with such a program is getting all stakeholders involved at the right time, Buck said. 

“I think that’s why there’s a stakeholder engagement and involvement process that’s been built in,” she said. “But I think, getting to that consensus can sometimes be challenging, and then really finding the best fit funding for whatever that solution or those solutions might be.”

Ideally, she said, if a community is ripping apart Main Street to put in facades and new sidewalks, then they are also putting in broadband lines at the same time. 

“But getting all of those projects and all of those players to line up in those funding deadlines can be really challenging,” she added.

Still, the two are enthusiastic about the approach and program. 

For a rural or Tribal community, Buck said,  adding a few jobs can be game-changing. 

“If you can create two or three jobs for a rural or Tribal community, that’s going to make a huge difference on paper,” she said. “It doesn’t look like a big deal. It’s not the 50 or 100 jobs that a big urban project might have. But those jobs could be pivotal for that small community of 300 or 500 people.”

Griffith agrees, looking at one project proposal that included a highway that had separated the community. The community is looking to reconnect. 

“Under this project, they’re seeking assistance to kind of reconnect their residents and their communities,” he said. “So when you look at examples, like that of ways that we can literally and figuratively build bridges, it’s very exciting.”

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