DALLAS – The Transportation Department is combining two years of authorized freight-related grants so it can provide $1.56 billion of funding in fiscal 2018 for road, rail, and port infrastructure projects.

The $78.8 million of the final federal Fastlane grants will help unplug freight-related port, rail, and highway bottlenecks, with new project criteria already in place for an expanded program in fiscal 2018.
The $78.8 million of the final federal Fastlane grants will help unplug freight-related port, rail, and highway bottlenecks, with new project criteria already in place for an expanded program in fiscal 2018.
Georgia & Florida Railway

The $78.8 million of grants to 10 mostly rural projects announced Friday will be the final disbursement from the Obama administration’s Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (Fastlane) grant program. The Trump administration has revised and renamed that program Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA).

The grants will come out of the $788.8 million that was available for the program in fiscal 2017.

Applications for the remaining $710 million of the 2017 grants, as well as for next year’s allocations, will be accepted through Nov. 2 to provide up to $1.56 billion of funding in fiscal 2018. Project sponsors can resubmit their earlier applications for the 2017 grants but must show how the revised proposals address the latest criteria for the competitive grants.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 authorized $800 million of the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Project grants in fiscal 2016, $850 million in 2017, $900 million in 2018, $950 million in 2019, and $1 billion in 2020, the final year of the five-year highway funding bill.

The authorized amounts are subject to annual obligation limits for federal-aid highway funding to states. The actual value of available 2017 grants was cut by approximately $70 million. The final 2018 grants are expected to total $810 million to $855 million rather than the $900 million authorized.

The first round of the annual grants in 2016 provided $759.2 million for 18 projects in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The successful projects were chosen from 212 applications seeking a total of $9.8 billion.

The INFRA grant program preserves the statutory requirement in the FAST Act to award at least 25% of funding for rural projects and 10% for small projects.

The 2017 grants are the final ones awarded based on the Fastlane criteria. Revisions in the new INFRA program include new application criteria, with a strong emphasis on maximizing the use of federal grant money to draw in other funds from state, local and private sources.

“The new program will increase the impact of projects by leveraging capital and allowing innovation in the project delivery and permitting processes, including public-private partnerships," the Transportation Department said in the notice announcing the new submission process.

“Projects that use innovative approaches to make each federal dollar go further and encourage more parties to put skin in the game through higher leverage, are willing implement innovative approaches to permitting and project delivery, and project sponsors willing to measure their performance and hold themselves accountable will all find something to like,” the department said.

The latest round of grants include $8.7 million to Taylor County, Fla., to upgrade tracks of the freight-hauling Georgia & Florida Railway to allow faster speeds, $7.9 million to upgrade 22 bridges on the state-owned Maine Northern Railway to increase cargo-hauling capacity, and $5 million to replace a load-restricted bridge in New Hampshire used by logging trucks.

The department has yet to open the application process for the $500 million of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery competitive grants authorized in the omnibus budget measure for fiscal 2017.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation panel in mid-July that the TIGER grant notice would be out by the beginning of August. A department spokeswoman declined Monday to provide a timeline for the grants.

The administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018 would eliminate funding for the TIGER program, which was part of President Obama’s stimulus package in 2009. The House Appropriations Committee in July adopted a spending plan for next year that goes along with the White House’s plan to kill off TIGER, but the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposal would expand it to $550 million next year from the $500 million allocated in fiscal 2017.

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