Navigating the RAISE Grant from U.S. DOT: A Guide to Merit Criteria

by | April 4, 2024

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has established the RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) discretionary grant program to transform American infrastructure. This initiative aims to support projects prioritizing safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, mobility and community connectivity, economic competitiveness, good repair, partnership and collaboration, and innovation.

The DOT has established merit criteria to evaluate a proposed project’s alignment with anticipated benefits using data-driven, evidence-based methods. Applications will be rated as “high,” “medium,” “low,” or “non-responsive,” regardless of whether the project is a planning grant or a capital grant. In order to meet the “highly recommended” category to advance to second-tier analysis, applications must be rated as “high” on at least six or more of the eight merit criteria ratings and receive zero “non-responsive” ratings. The following information provides a detailed breakdown of the eight merit criteria categories to assist your organization in developing a compelling, competitive RAISE application.

By aligning RAISE grant project proposals with these criteria, applicants enhance their chances of securing funding and contribute to the broader goals of creating sustainable, safe and inclusive transportation systems across the United States.

RAISE Grant Merit Criteria Breakdown

1. Safety: Protecting Lives on the Road

Safety is paramount in transportation projects seeking RAISE funding. Applicants must outline plans to protect both motorized and non-motorized travelers from safety risks. This includes strategies to reduce fatalities or serious injuries below the statewide average. Safety initiatives should be data-driven and target a documented problem, leveraging recommended actions and activities within the National Roadway Safety Strategy. Specific attention to pedestrian and bicyclist safety, such as adherence to FTA’s Safety Advisory 23-1 on Bus-to-Person Collisions, enhances a project’s competitiveness, as do proposed safety improvements that are part of a more comprehensive risk mitigation plan (such as those that deliver a municipality-wide or regional impact.)

2. Environmental Sustainability: A Green Commitment

Projects firmly committed to environmental sustainability stand out in the RAISE grant evaluation process. Applicants should detail plans to reduce transportation-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in underserved communities. Applicants that outline how their project complements their State Carbon Reduction Strategy or other state/local/tribal plans will receive higher ratings. Incorporating lower-carbon materials, as guided by the EPA and the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, also further demonstrates a dedication to a greener future.

Additional areas of consideration include reduction in traveled vehicle miles, shifting to lower-impact travel modes, incorporating efficient energy investments, improving at-risk infrastructure resilience and consideration of the local native environmental impact (such as improving habitats and avoiding adverse impacts).

3. Quality of Life: Enhancing Communities

Improving quality of life is a crucial merit criterion, emphasizing affordable transportation choices, reducing transportation and housing costs, and enhancing access to daily destinations. Successful applicants will present plans coordinating and integrating land use, affordable housing and transportation to create livable communities, expanding travel choices for all.

4. Mobility and Community Connectivity: Fostering Accessibility

Enhancing system-wide connectivity and removing physical barriers for individuals is central to the mobility and community connectivity criterion. Incorporating universal design principles, addressing last-mile freight plans in complete streets, and a multimodal approach will elevate the project’s competitiveness.

5. Economic Competitiveness and Opportunity

Projects aiming to improve freight mobility, particularly those addressing supply chain bottlenecks, are critically connected to local, regional and national economic benefits. On a local, regional and state level, projects that facilitate and promote tourism opportunities, entrepreneurship (especially involving Disadvantaged Business Enterprises or 8(a) firms), good-paying jobs and public and private investments in land-use development are all highly prioritized.

6. State of Good Repair

Applicants demonstrating a commitment to restoring and modernizing core infrastructure assets, creating new infrastructure in remote communities, addressing vulnerabilities for underserved communities and prioritizing improvements within existing footprints receive favorable consideration.

7. Partnership and Collaboration

Emphasizing equity throughout the project’s lifecycle, coordinating with various projects and partnering with workforce development programs are crucial aspects of this criterion. Projects should consider community engagement activities to help inform decision-making processes that meaningfully integrate a variety of perspectives. Coordinating stakeholder involvement with other complementary project owners — such as commercial or residential developers, private power/electric providers, local unions and business owners — will result in a high-quality application.

8. Innovation

Projects embracing innovative technologies, delivery methods, and financing strategies while demonstrating project readiness and a commitment to environmental risk mitigation receive extra attention. Applicants should propose plans to take advantage of existing processes that can streamline the prospective project, such as programmatic agreements between environmental resource agencies and their state’s transportation department, if such agreements exist.

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Merit Criteria Themes

From the comprehensive list of merit criteria, four core themes emerge:

1. Safety

  • Protect travelers from safety risks.
  • Reduce fatalities or injuries below the statewide average.
  • Align with the National Roadway Safety Strategy.
  • Improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists accessing transit.

2. Environmental Sustainability

  • Reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in underserved communities.
  • Enhance infrastructure resilience against climate change-related events.
  • Incorporate lower-carbon materials following EPA guidelines or the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization.
  • Leverage environmental justice principles, especially for historically underinvested communities.

3. Quality of Life

  • Increase affordable transportation choices.
  • Reduce transportation and housing cost burdens.
  • Coordinate land use, affordable housing and transportation planning.
  • Improve access to daily destinations through transit and active transportation.
  • Implement transit-oriented benefits that take into consideration underserved populations, including low-income, disadvantaged and mobility-impaired individuals.

4. Mobility and Community Connectivity

  • Improve system-wide connectivity.
  • Remove physical barriers for individuals.
  • Incorporate universal design principles.
  • Directly increase intermodal and multimodal freight movement.

Additional Considerations

Understanding and strategically addressing the merit criteria is essential for successfully navigating the RAISE grant application process. By aligning project proposals with these criteria, applicants enhance their chances of securing funding and contribute to the broader goals of creating sustainable, safe and inclusive transportation systems across the United States. The RAISE grant program stands as a beacon for transformative projects that prioritize the well-being of communities and the environment while fostering economic growth and connectivity.

Not sure where to start? Lexipol’s team of expert grant writers, researchers and project managers can help your agency through custom grant solutions geared toward getting your department the funds it needs to meet its safety and wellness mandates.


This guide overviews the RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation. While efforts have been made to provide a comprehensive understanding of the merit criteria, grant seekers are strongly advised to refer specifically to the annual Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) released by the U.S. DOT for detailed and up-to-date guidance. The NOFO contains specific instructions, eligibility criteria, and application procedures that must be followed to ensure accurate and compliant submissions. This overview should not be considered a substitute for the official NOFO, and applicants are encouraged to thoroughly review the official document before preparing and submitting their grant proposals.

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