WASHINGTON - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is encouraging states and cities to submit letters of interest for $1.7 billion of loans or guarantees available under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, which LaHood said could ultimately help leverage $50 billion in transportation investment.

"Americans have always done big things - not in spite of hard times, but as a means of overcoming them," said LaHood. "That's why the Obama administration is launching the largest infrastructure loan program in our history - these investments will help cities and states create jobs right away building the big transportation projects we need to make sure our economy continues to grow and prosper."

The surface transportation reauthorization law known as MAP-21, signed by the president earlier this month, provides $1.7 billion over two years for the TIFIA program, up from $120 million in fiscal year 2012. The program provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects.

Each dollar of federal funds can create $10 in TIFIA credit assistance, meaning $17 billion in loans through TIFIA, which in turn can leverage $20-$30 billion in transportation infrastructure investment, the Department of Transportation said in a release.

Eligible projects include highway and passenger rail, public transit, bridges and tunnels.

Notable projects supported by TIFIA loans include the Presidio Parkway project in California's Bay Area, Denver Union Station in Colorado, and the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels in southern Virginia. TIFIA also participated in funding the Miami Intermodal Facility in Florida,

To date, the TIFIA program has used $9.2 billion to leverage more than $36.4 billion in private and other funds to help build 27 major transportation projects around the country, the DOT said.

Letters can be received on a rolling basis beginning now, the DOT said. Applicants will have to outline their proposed project and provide a plan for how TIFIA money could be used to augment other funding sources.

LaHood also announced the establishment of the Project Finance Center, which will help state and local government project sponsors analyze financial options for their transportation projects.

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