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Looking for an Edge in Your Next Grant Application? Think Like Your Grantor

By Larry Mattson, Executive Director Yakima Valley Conference of Governments

With the support of CSI and the US Economic Development Administration (EDA), the City of Granger, WA recently underwent a ‘fiscal infrastructure x-ray’ with consultant Steve Gorcester. Mr. Gorcester, former director of the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), provided Granger mayor Jose Trevino and Public Works Director Jodie Luke with detailed guidance on improving their grant competitiveness. Alan Rainey with Spinks Engineering joined the meeting as Granger’s engineer of record.

Granger officials with consultant Steve Gorcester (left)

Granger City officials with consultant Steve Gorcester (left)

When packaging grant applications, do your best to think like the grantor. Understanding the business needs of grant programs like TIB will give you a competitive advantage. For small cities, TIB wants to see good street surface conditions over the long term, on top of utilities that are in good condition. TIB wants to see blue and green pavement condition ratings all over your town. The TIB posts color street condition maps of all small cities on the TIB Performance Dashboard at

Check lists of prior awards on grant websites. These lists give you important clues into the funding focus of each program. Note what types of projects are funded and the dollar value of the awards. Then look at your project and consider how close you are to that ‘sweet spot.’ Demonstrate you are minimizing costs and don’t have a bloated project. The funding program wants to pick winners that will reach construction and be successfully built.

As you prepare your grant submittal, keep these ideas in mind:

Downtown Granger

Why should the grantor ‘buy’ my project? That’s right; think of your city as the producer of a product that grantor is purchasing. The TIB wants to know how you’ve optimized the project and made it as efficient as possible? Know your underground utility condition. Ideally, you want your TIB engineer to be able to report that, “The timing is perfect on this project. The condition, continuity, and cost all line up to make this a project worth


Are you optimizing material costs? What TIB is looking for here is high production efficiencies. Unfortunately, this is where small cities are in a pickle; the norm is to haul small quantities of asphalt long distances at high costs per ton. Does your financial plan (see below) clearly demonstrate that you’ve price-optimized your materials (base course, asphalt)? Have you lined up your project with county or state pavers and chip seals to optimize your material costs?

Find out when WSDOT engineers are planning to pave nearby. TIB has a task-order agreement with WSDOT’s maintenance program. Many county road departments will seal coat town streets under a TIB direct reimbursement program. Looking for paving opportunities tells TIB staff, “this is how we’re making the project efficient, and a smart purchase.” If you know of other paving projects nearby, in any quantity, apply to TIB. That proximity to other projects demonstrates you’ve optimized your raw material costs.

If a grant will buy it, don’t do (fund) it yourself. The ‘color of money’ matters. Overcome the natural tendency to see all funding sources as the same. Funds from your MPO/RTPO (Metro Planning Org./Regional Transpo. Planning Org.) may have federal strings attached. It is great money to get but use it strategically. The more of your products (projects) that grants buy, the more you can use flexible general fund revenues to pursue quality of life projects or other priority needs.

What’s your financial plan? The grantor wants to know you have a plan to attain full funding. Partially-funded projects can’t proceed to construction. If you’re going to meet with TIB staff, lead with a written financial plan that shows the project is set up for success.

Create a balance sheet showing costs and where you plan to get the money. Yes, you will need to coordinate with other funding agencies, and yes, your financial plan may get complex. Those funders will appreciate the due diligence you’ve demonstrated through your solid financial plan.

Different funding streams and requirements are part of the project development tension we all have to live with. Embrace the uncertainty! Try to line up funding to arrive in the same year and give all funders as much of the big picture as you can.

Great infrastructure promotes economic success. The charters of most grant programs have your economic success in mind. Dilapidated infrastructure sends a negative economic signal.    There are many reasons why your downtown may not be thriving. Don’t let poor street condition be one of them. TIB and other grant programs want your town to have a business-ready Main Street. Know the condition of underground utilities and get help with repairs. Nobody wants expensive pavement to be put down over failing pipes. Ultimately, the TIB program succeeds in street surfaces are in good condition, sidewalks are in good condition with ADA accessibility from Main Street to your traffic generators. Projects will obtain more grant money if they can be efficiently produced with respect for the environment.

Complete Streets funding has maximum flexibility; tap into it. Work with your MPO/RTPO to adopt a Complete Streets ordinance if you haven’t already. Keep working with your MPO/RTPO to demonstrate sincere adoption of the Complete Streets philosophy. This includes demonstrating how you’ve implemented the policy. For example, answering the question in words and pictures, “How has the adoption of a CS ordinance improved mobility downtown?” To what extent are you as a city taking steps to implement CS principles in your land use and transportation planning? Beyond planning, what do your principles look like ‘on the ground?’ Do you have an ADA transition plan, bike plan, sidewalk plan? When you are nominated and win the Complete Streets award, you get to decide what projects to spend it on. Most anything related to walking, bicycling, access to transit or streetscape aesthetics can be proposed to TIB.

The staff of YVCOG is grateful to Rhys Roth and the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure for making Mr. Gorcester available.

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