The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity that will provide $50 million in grant funding for agencies working to boost commuter safety at highway-rail crossings.
DOT released the notice on August 25th, and explained that the funding will be awarded by the Federal Highway Administration through the Commuter Authority Rail Safety Improvement Grants Program. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020 appropriated the $50 million to be allocated through this particular program.
The Federal Highway Administration works with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration to reward commuter rail authorities’ efforts in eradicating crossing point safety hazards between railways and highways with competitive grants through the CARSI program.
“Safety is always our top priority at the department under the leadership of [Transportation] Secretary [Elaine] Chao,” said Nicole Nason, Federal Highway Administrator. “These grants will help our state, local, and regional transportation partners better protect the lives of those traveling on America’s roads and rails.”
Projects that protect or separate grades at crossings, rebuild current railroad grade crossing structures, eliminate grade crossing by relocating highways, or fix blocked grade crossings due to idling trains to eliminate hazards are eligible. An eligible commuter authority will need to have experienced an accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board between January 1st of 2008 and December 31st of 2018.
“FRA is always working toward a benchmark of zero fatalities at railway crossings, and such safety improvements to our nation’s infrastructure will go a long way toward that goal,” said Ronald Batory, Federal Railroad Administrator.
94% of all railway-related deaths and injuries take place at railroad crossings or are caused by trespassing, according to the FRA. Trespassing is the cause behind at least 400 rail-related deaths every year.
“Working together with FHWA and FRA, we can improve safety around highway-rail crossings and prevent collisions, injuries, and fatalities,” said K. Jane Williams, FTA Deputy Administrator. “Rail safety includes encouraging safe behavior around all rail crossings; it’s about making sure the American public is safe near all rail tracks.”
This funding opportunity has four main goals, according to the DOT. These are: to improve safety at all railway-highway crossings through the elimination of hazards in these areas, to reduce overall fatalities, crashes, and serious injuries at these crossings, to reduce the number of public at-grade crossings by either closure or grade separation, and to reduce delays and improve systems by eliminating blocked grade crossing hazards.
DOT also notes that the proposed location of an eligible project does not need to be at the location where the NTSB previously investigated a reported accident. “The proposed location of the project is up to the discretion of applicant,” DOT said.
There is also a required cost share of 10% of all project costs. Additionally, the planned type of award will be a cost-reimbursable grant agreement sent directly to the applicant or through an allocation to the applicant’s State department of transportation. The grant period of performance must be proposed by the applicant and can vary by award. DOT estimates grant awards will typically last between one and four years.
“The applicant should demonstrate the technical feasibility of the project with engineering and design studies and activities; the development of design criteria and/or basis of design; the basis for the cost estimate presented in the CARSI application, including the identification of contingency levels appropriate to its level of design; and any scope, schedule, and budget risk-mitigation measures,” explained DOT.
The current closing date for grant applications is October 26th, and the DOT will be hosting a Funding Opportunity Informational Webinar on September 10th from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM Eastern time. This informational webinar is an attempt to help applicants fully understand all eligibility and opportunity requirements and have their questions answered.
To participate in the webinar, you must provide your name, title, organization information, and email address to Sarah.Tarpgaard@DOT.gov by September 9th. DOT also recommends you download the NOFO’s full announcement and information packet under the Related Documents tab on the grant information webpage, which you can find here.