September 28, 2022
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The U.S. Department of Transportation is making $2.9 billion in grant funding available for “major” infrastructure projects through a notice of funding opportunity or NOFO through its new Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant initiative. The deadline for applications is May 23.

[Above photo by USDOT]

That program combines three new and existing grant programs – the National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA) program, the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, and the Rural Surface Transportation (RURAL) grant program – into one overall discretionary grant framework.

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA – signed into law in November 2021 – created the MEGA and RURAL programs, while the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act established the INFRA program.

USDOT Sec. Buttigieg at podium with Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor responsible for coordinating the implementation of the infrastructure law. Photo by USDOT.

Pete Buttigieg, USDOT secretary, said in a statement that combining three major discretionary grant programs into one NOFO reduces the burden for state and local applicants while increasing the pipeline of “shovel-worthy” projects.

“Until now, we had limited ability to make awards beyond a certain level, or to support projects with funding from multiple federal grant programs,” he said in a statement. “Under this approach and with a major infusion of new funding, we have the capacity to green-light more transformational projects that will create good-paying union jobs, grow the economy, and make our transportation system safer and more resilient.”

The MEGA program supports major projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding streams. USDOT said this new program provides grants on a competitive basis to support multi-jurisdictional or regional projects of significance that may also cut across multiple modes of transportation.

Photo by the Louisiana DOTD

Eligible projects could include highway, bridge, freight, port, passenger rail, and public transportation projects of national and regional significance, such as: bridges or tunnels connecting two states; new rail and transit lines that improve equity and reduce emissions; and freight hubs integrating ship, train and truck traffic while improving environmental justice.

USDOT said it plans to award 50 percent of MEGA funding to projects greater than $500 million in cost, with the remaining 50 percent given to projects greater than $100 million but less than $500 million in cost. The MEGA program should receive up to $1 billion this year alone and be able to provide multi-year funding to projects.

The existing INFRA program – which prioritizes freight-related highway projects, though some limited rail and port infrastructure is allowed as long as it reduces congestion on highways – is an existing competitive program that will see a more than 50 percent increase in 2022 funding due to the IIJA.

The IIJA provides approximately $8 billion for INFRA over five years, USDOT noted, with the agency making roughly $1.5 billion available through this NOFO alone.

Photo by the Nebraska DOT.

The RURAL program supports projects to improve and expand the surface transportation infrastructure in rural areas to increase connectivity, improve the safety and reliability of the movement of people and freight, and generate regional economic growth and improve quality of life.

Projects eligible for RURAL grants include highway, bridge, and tunnel projects that help improve freight, safety, and provide or increase access to an agricultural, commercial, energy, or transportation facilities that support the economy of a rural area. In 2022, USDOT plans to award up to $300 million via the new RURAL grant program.

USDOT noted that making the grant money available for all three programs via a single NOFO “makes it easier for communities to apply to one, two, or three major discretionary grant programs with a single application and common set of criteria.”

editor@aashto.org

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