Rural Towns Receive Unprecedented Investment in Pedestrian Infrastructure

Jessica Stroope, Holston, Denise, Freightman, Jamila, Losavio, Ruthie

The Louisiana Agriculture nameplate stands against a white background.

Jessica Stroope, Ruthie Losavio, Jamila Freightman and Denise Holston

Walking and biking are two of the most common forms of physical activity. With rural obesity and physical inactivity rates higher than the state and national averages in Louisiana, providing safe avenues for exercise and active transportation like walking and biking can help rural Louisiana residents be more physically active. However, many small towns face large barriers when it comes to improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure. To address some of these barriers, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team worked with partners at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) to make Louisiana’s Transportation Alternatives Program more accessible to small towns. Thanks to recent changes made through this partnership, 11 rural communities will receive over $13 million to improve local pedestrian infrastructure.

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is a federally funded program administered through the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) that focuses on creating “complete streets,” which address the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and people with disabilities. This includes building safe, accessible sidewalks that connect residents to everyday destinations like schools, grocery stores, libraries and parks. In a state with one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the nation, TAP offers funding for proven safety measures like rehabilitating or installing sidewalks, high-visibility crosswalks, wheelchair ramps and overhead lighting.

You may be asking, “Why is the AgCenter involved?” Historically, LSU AgCenter Nutrition and Community Health Extension agents have focused on teaching nutrition lessons. However, in 2014, the Cooperative Extension System adopted a new National Framework for Health Equity and Well-Being, which shifted the focus from exclusively nutrition education to a broader public health approach that includes improving places where people live, work, learn and play. This newer approach includes helping communities become more walkable places. Since 2014, the CDC’s High Obesity Program (HOP) has also supported the AgCenter’s work to improve the local food system and walkable community designs to support economic development and community health. By gathering public input through events and community forums, the AgCenter helps communities identify what parts of town are particularly dangerous for people traveling by foot, wheelchair or bike. Based on local needs, community coalitions create active transportation connectivity plans with the help of the Baton Rouge-based Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX).

Although several rural parishes have established connectivity plans, little progress had been made previously due to the high costs of bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Before 2023, communities with fewer than 5,000 residents that received TAP funding had to contribute a 20% cash match in addition to covering construction engineering and inspection (CEI) costs, which average an additional 20% of total project costs. This means that in the past, a $500,000 sidewalk project would cost a small town $200,000.

Thanks to new flexibility allowed in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we were able to work with the Louisiana DOTD to make TAP a feasible funding option for rural communities. DOTD lowered the match to 5% for communities under 5,000 residents and will no longer charge CEI costs to communities under 50,000 residents. This means that a $500,000 sidewalk project will now cost small towns $25,000.

Brian Nunes, who oversees TAP in Louisiana, made sure the new flexibility in the law translated into real change for Louisiana communities.

“Before we made changes to the match requirements, rural communities rarely applied. The program was out of reach, and the funds were unspent,” Nunes said. “Because of the changes and our partnership with LSU AgCenter, during the latest funding cycle we received 15 applications from those same smaller communities. Louisiana is now using all federal funding designated for rural communities for the TAP program.”

The AgCenter Healthy Communities team hosted a Rural Complete Streets Summit in October 2022 to help rural communities understand and navigate the new rules. Program leaders at key organizations including DOTD, Safe Routes Partnership, the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (ANHA) were matched with teams of elected officials, community members and AgCenter staff from rural communities to learn about Complete Streets and demystify the funding application process. All communities who attended the summit and submitted a TAP application received funding.

The success of the project highlights the importance of AgCenter’s presence in small, rural communities. The hands-on support and technical assistance provided through extension connects communities with resources needed to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for all citizens in Louisiana. For more information, please contact

Jessica Stroope is the LSU AgCenter physical activity specialist. Ruthie Losavio is the communications coordinator for the AgCenter Healthy Communities program. Jamila Freightman is the CDC High Obesity Program Manager, and Denise Holston is an associate professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

This article appears in the 2024 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.

A group of people walks on a sidewalk and examines the pavement.

AgCenter agents like Jessica Randazzo (pictured in white) help organize local walk audits and connect communities with key state and regional organizations like Department of Transportation and Development, Atchafalaya National Heritage Area and Acadiana Planning Commission. Photo by Ruthie Losavio

A group of people walks on a sidewalk and examines a sidewalk.

The LSU AgCenter facilitates a walk audit in Franklin to help prepare for their Transportation Alternatives application. Photo by Ed "Tiger" Verdin

People sit at tables inside a ballroom.

Teams from rural communities at work during the Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit in October 2022. Photo by Ruthie Losavio

3/11/2024 7:27:00 PM
Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture