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Transportation Department Awards $1.5B In Infrastructure Grants

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has announced $1.5B in grant funding to 91 infrastructure projects in 49 states and D.C., made through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Transportation Grants program.

The Brooklyn Bridge

The BUILD program supports road, rail, transit and port infrastructure projects nationwide, including grants for both rural and urban projects. It comes at a time when U.S. infrastructure is wildly uneven, with much in sore need of repair or redevelopment.

Perhaps the highest-profile BUILD grant issued during this round of funding is $25M to restore and rehabilitate the masonry arches and their foundations on the Manhattan and Brooklyn approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge.

In San Francisco, a $15M grant will go toward roadway improvements on Market Street between Sixth and Eighth streets in Downtown. Improvements will include roadway resurfacing, streetcar track replacement, the replacement and upgrade of traffic signals and a new F-line streetcar turnaround loop. 

Though those projects are urban, the department prioritized rural projects during this round of funding. Rural applications more than doubled from the previous year’s applications. 

"Underinvestment in rural infrastructure has led to a decline in the routes that connect communities in rural America," the department said in a statement. "In this round, in which 59% of the applications were for rural projects, 62 projects were awarded to rural grant applications."

A number of projects involve energy infrastructure. The Permian Basin projects and the Port Arthur Multimodal Rail Expansion and Berth Expansion Project will both contribute to the transportation of domestic energy products. 

Border security infrastructure is also supported through BUILD Transportation grants this year, with projects such as the Calexico East Port of Entry Bridge Expansion in California making bridge improvements to accommodate freight traffic and the improvement of other transportation facilities at the border crossing.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

Additional grants will support projects involving connected or autonomous vehicle infrastructure and broadband service to underserved communities.

For instance, in Jacksonville, Florida, $25M will support the city's urban core riverfront revitalization, including the deployment of about 15 autonomous vehicles, dynamic connected traffic signals, smart lighting, pedestrian sensors and smart parking.

In Las Vegas, a $5.3M grant will provide autonomous and connected vehicle service, pedestrian safety devices and smart transit shelters to the Las Vegas Medical District. 

Demand for BUILD grants far exceeded available funds, according to the department, which received 851 applications in response to the BUILD Notice of Funding Opportunity this year, nearly double the applications received in 2017. 

According to the Transportation Department, project applications were evaluated on the criteria of safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection and state of good repair. 

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 appropriated $1.5B for this round of BUILD grants. For this round, the maximum grant award was $25M for a single project.

Previously known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grants, the annual awarding of infrastructure grants began with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus package enacted in response to the recession.

The original funding allocated by the stimulus is gone, but in more recent years Congress has allocated money for infrastructure grants using the same formula as the stimulus. Counting the most recent (10th) round, some $7.1B has been allocated to infrastructure projects in this way.