The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) [yesterday] announced it is seeking applicants for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 round of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program.
INFRA grants will fund transportation projects of national and regional significance that are in line with the Biden Administration’s priorities including creating good-paying jobs, improving safety, applying transformative technology, and explicitly addressing climate change and racial equity. The funding available for this year’s grants totals approximately $889 million.
The Department recognizes the role that infrastructure investment plays in economic development and job creation, and the added urgency of this funding at time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put stress on state and local budgets.
“As we work to recover and emerge from this devastating pandemic stronger than before, now is the time to make lasting investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We are committed to not just rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, but building back in a way that positions American communities for success in the future—creating good paying jobs, boosting the economy, ensuring equity, and tackling our climate crisis. The INFRA grant program is a tremendous opportunity to help achieve these goals.”
The USDOT seeks INFRA projects that address climate change and environmental justice. Projects will be evaluated on whether they were planned as part of a comprehensive strategy to address climate change and whether they support strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as deploying zero-emission vehicle infrastructure or encouraging modal shift and a reduction in vehicle-miles-traveled.
Racial equity will also be considered as a selection criterion, to the extent that project sponsors have completed equity-focused community outreach, and projects are designed to improve connections to underserved communities to reduce barriers to opportunity. The Department will also consider whether the project is located in a federally designated community development zone, including qualified Opportunity Zones, Empowerment Zones, Promise Zones, or Choice Neighborhoods.
INFRA projects will also be rated on the extent that they apply innovative technology, delivery, or financing methods with proven outcomes to deliver projects in a cost effective manner.
The Department will make awards under the INFRA program to both large and small projects. For a large project, the INFRA grant must be at least $25 million. For a small project, the grant must be at least $5 million. Under statutory requirements, 10 percent of available funds are reserved for small projects, and the Department must award at least 25 percent of funding for rural projects.
INFRA grants may be used to fund a variety of components of an infrastructure project; however, the Department is specifically focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested and is positioned to proceed rapidly to construction. Eligible INFRA project costs may include: reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of property (including land related to the project and improvements to the land), environmental mitigation, construction contingencies, equipment acquisition, and operational improvements directly related to system performance.
The FY 2021 INFRA NOFO also announces the creation of the “INFRA Extra” Program, which will identify competitive INFRA applicants who do not receive an INFRA award and authorize them to seek a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA) loan up to 49 percent of their project cost.
The Department will post and respond to questions related to the expanded INFRA program criteria, and post notices of upcoming webinars for stakeholders through the website listed below.