$889 million will become available through the Infrastructure For Rebuilding American grants, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced.
DOT has published its intention to find fiscal year 2021 applicants for the latest round of its discretionary grant program, which will work to fund certain transportation-related projects that are deemed significant and necessary either regionally or nationally. These funds are also meant to be allocated in such a way that would potentially create new jobs and boost economic development, as well as improve overall road and transportation safety.
“Infrastructure investment also provides opportunities for workers to find good-paying jobs with the choice to join a union, and supports American industry through the application of domestic preference requirements,” DOT explained in the Federal Register. “Projects that use project labor agreements and deploy local hiring provisions also contribute to economic vitality.”
Because government budgets have taken a hit at both the state and the local levels due to the coronavirus pandemic, DOT acknowledged that these grants will aim to help soothe those financial issues that many infrastructure projects faced throughout this difficult time.
“As we work to recover and emerge from this devastating pandemic stronger than before, now is the time to make lasting investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” explained Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
DOT will be focusing on funding INFRA projects–specifically, and for the first time–that are working to help issues regarding environmental justice and climate change. For selection, projects will be considered in regards to their overall strategies to fight climate change or their plans to support greenhouse gas emission-reduction efforts. Some of these plans may include the deployment of zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure or the implementation of a method for encouraging passenger vehicle travel reduction.
INFRA grants were first created within 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. Previous grant offers include the $71.4 million grant given to the Mississippi Department of Transportation for the construction of its Greenville Bypass Freight Corridor. DOT said it continues to receive hundreds of INFRA applications every year.
Other funding considerations will focus upon INFRA projects with an emphasis on racial equity, such as projects outlining ways to benefit particularly underserved communities or projects with sponsors and participants who have worked within community outreach that prioritizes racial equity efforts. Additionally, if a project will take place in federally-designated community development zones (like an Opportunity Zone), DOT may take special interest. These Opportunity Zones are defined by the DOT as being “economically distressed” communities that have been designated as such by their state’s governor and also certified as such by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
“The Department seeks to use the INFRA program to encourage racial equity in two areas: planning and policies related to racial equity and barriers to opportunity, and project investments that either proactively address racial equity and barriers to opportunity, including automobile dependence as a form of barrier, or redress prior inequities and barriers to opportunity,” the DOT said.
Finally, DOT is prioritizing projects implementing cost-effective financing methods or innovative technology.
“We are committed to not just rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, but building back in a way that positions American communities for success in the future–creating good-paying jobs, boosting the economy, ensuring equity, and tackling our climate crisis,” said Buttigieg.
Performance and accountability are also key factors for the grant, as the DOT “seeks to increase project sponsor accountability and performance” and will analyze all applicants’ plans to determine the lifestyle costs of their projects and their abilities to allocate award funds properly in order to efficiently achieve their goals.
Both small and large projects can be eligible for the grant, which must be at least $5 million for a small project and $25 million for a large project–around 10% of available funding will be allocated for smaller projects. Additionally, DOT must give at least a quarter of INFRA funding to rural projects.
Within this latest Notice of Funding Opportunity, DOT revealed the new INFRA Extra initiative, which, through the Transportation Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act, will help qualifying, competitive applicants who have not yet received an INFRA obtain a loan to help complete their infrastructure projects.
The Notice of Funding Opportunity, according to DOT, will stay open until March 19th. Notices of upcoming webinars and answers to frequently asked questions in regards to INFRA program criteria will be posted on DOT’s Build America webpage.