The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed spending almost $79 million for 10 small freight and highway projects under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program, according to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Journal.
The projects represent a cross section of freight, rail and port construction projects of national importance ranging from $12.3 million for a highway project in Colorado to $5 million for the replacement of ferry facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao notified Congress of the suggested recipients, and lawmakers have 60 days to raise objections.
Congress authorized $850 million in INFRA grants for fiscal year 2017 and set aside 10% for small projects Due to obligation limits on federal highway funding, the actual amount of cash available for INFRA grants was $788.8 million, with $78.8 million reserved for those smaller-scale projects.
The latest awards and other initiatives are part of a push to meet the financing needs of smaller scale and rural projects.
In late June, the USDOT announced that it was amending the INFRA program, formerly known as FASTLANE (Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies), to include more rural projects — 25% of total funding — and those using new strategies for project delivery and permitting. The agency said it would also prioritize initiatives using private or non-federal financing.
INFRA is one pre-Trump infrastructure funding program that didn't get the axe in the White House's 2018 budget request. Financing programs like the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and Capital Investment Grants (CIG) would be eliminated, according to the proposal, and the USDOT's budget would take a 13% hit.
This round of INFRA grant recipients applied for the program in November of 2016. Two of last year's 18 winners were the Virginia Department of Transportation's Atlantic Gateway I-95 corridor project, which received $165 million, and the Florida Department of Transportation's truck-parking-availability project, which was valued at $10.78 million. Those initiatives were chosen from an applicant field of 200, and in some cases the grant was critical to their success.
The Trump administration could also increase its focus on financing rural projects through Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans. At a congressional hearing last month, former recipients said the loan program made their projects possible because of the loans' low interest rates and other favorable terms, but that federal officials needed to increase outreach to rural agencies so they could benefit from the loans as well.