AWS Public Sector Blog

Advice for transportation agencies and authorities seeking funding for innovation

city traffic at night aerial

Innovators in the transportation sector can seek additional sources of funding to help advance projects to improve safety, efficiency, system performance, and infrastructure. The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) offers state and local government funding opportunities through discretionary grant programs that encourage transportation agencies to think big.

“Winning projects propose solutions or ideas that can help solve today’s problems while pushing the limits of available technology to move the state of the practice for transportation technology forward for the entire country,” said Tim Haile, executive director for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Several Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers, including the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), successfully won these highly competitive USDOT grants. Learn from the collaborators on these projects, including Haile, Mark Haselkorn, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Collaborative Systems for Safety, Security, and Regional Resilience (CoSSaR), and Jimmy Kim, head of business development for smart communities, transportation, and mobility at Verizon, as they share their suggestions for crafting a successful application.

Identify opportunities early

It helps to start as early as possible to set your grant application up for success. The USDOT posts notice of funding opportunities (NOFO) for you to review and determine if you qualify. However, state and local government agencies like yours can give themselves additional time to create a successful application and increase chances for success by reviewing existing federal bills for competitive grant programs. This will help government agencies like yours anticipate funding that will become available, so they can begin to assemble your project team of public and private partners in advance of a NOFO. This strategy also allows them time to gather a comprehensive team that meets the commitments of the grant application. A successful grant application isn’t put together in a matter of weeks; your agency should make the decision to pursue a grant at least six to nine months in advance of the application deadline. “You have to be prepared to put together a multi-month effort of people just to write the proposal,” said Haselkorn who is project manager for the innovative Virtual Coordination Center in the Seattle, Washington area.

Build upon ideas in motion

When crafting a successful grant application, it’s useful to be able to demonstrate that your team already has work in progress on the initiative. This shows you have thought through the issue you’re addressing and have experience in the area. “Our agency has been fortunate enough to have had a front row seat to innovation through our management of GoMentum Station, one of the nation’s largest, secure, connected, and automated proving grounds. That provided an opportunity to lead many cutting-edge efforts in the five years prior to winning the Automated Driving System (ADS) grant in 2019,” said Haile. The Contra Costa Transportation Authority is now using the grant funding to expand their real-world testing efforts to support USDOT goals for safety and rule-making by improving vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to infrastructure communication. A key element of this project is to use AWS to develop a data lake to store the massive amount of vehicle data that needs to be transmitted, stored, and analyzed.

Develop repeatable solutions

Both the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and WSDOT’s partners agree that proposing a solution that can be replicated and implemented in other regions strengthened their applications. This way, model deployments can be used as learning opportunities that can be adjusted and improved upon before a larger roll out. “For a model deployment, it’s about showing what you learned that’s going to help other people do it even better,” said Haselkorn, pointing to WSDOT’s grant-winning Virtual Coordination Center proposal. The project, which will enable real-time data sharing via the AWS Cloud will support coordinated response to clear roadway incidents quickly and reduce congestion. “Our use of the cloud to deliver next-generation transportation systems managements and operations will enable other regions to adapt our demonstration to their own needs and environments,” said Haselkorn.

Foster key relationships

Above all, fostering relationships with people and partners is the most important part of a grant application. For larger applications, Haselkorn says, “It’s not enough to have a good idea. You need to show that everyone has bought into that idea. And you show that by partnering, providing in-kind effort, match funds, and more.” Jimmy Kim, who collaborated on the Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s Automated Driving System grant application, added, “It’s important to know your partner’s priorities and how to complement each others’ skillsets. Take time to nurture and develop these relationships.” Transportation organizations like yours can also lean on the existing, robust relationships between AWS and its partners like Pariveda who supported the Virtual Coordination Center’s grant applications and Verizon. In addition, AWS can provide data-sharing best practices and design, and a deep bench of transportation experts from various disciplines across the country to assist applicants building on AWS.

Work on being resilient

USDOT grants are highly competitive. But unsuccessful grant applications are opportunities to learn and improve—not invitations to give up. The first time the Virtual Coordination Center and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority sought funding through the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grant, they were both rejected. But, both were successful on their second attempts. “Look at the applications that won and ask yourself what they had that you didn’t,” Haselkorn said. Check out Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s successful application.

If your agency is considering applying for an upcoming grant, reach out to our team to learn more about how AWS can support your grant application. And, to learn more about cloud-based innovation in the transportation industry, please tune in to our short, on-demand webinar highlighting Transurban, VeriToll, the city of Detroit, and Elizabeth River Crossings.


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Randy Iwasaki

Randy Iwasaki

Randy Iwasaki leads state and local transportation at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Prior to joining AWS, Randy served for 10 years as executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority where he founded GoMentum Station, the largest secure automated vehicle test facility in the nation. Prior to that, he was a 27-year employee of the California Department of Transportation, serving as director from 2009 to 2010.

Kacey Hertan

Kacey Hertan

Kacey Hertan is a marketing manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS). In her role, Kacey highlights how state and local government transportation customers use the AWS Cloud to modernize for a more resilient future. Kacey graduated phi beta kappa from Middlebury College with a degree in economics.