Thanks to a huge increase in 2018 appropriations, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded about $1.5 billion in infrastructure grants for an array of project types in nearly every state, with highway and bridge projects snaring more than two-thirds of the dollars.
In formally announcing the winners of the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants on Dec. 11 at an event at DOT headquarters, the department said it divided the funds among 91 projects in 49 states plus the District of Columbia. [View fact sheets on each winning project here.] Hawaii was the only state that didn't receive a grant.
[View video of DOT event, including speakers' remarks, here.]
Congressional appropriators provided $1.5 billion for the program in fiscal year 2018, triple the previous year’s level.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees DOT's budget, said this year's total was the largest for the program since 2009, when it was called TIGER grants, for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. The Trump administration renamed the program and changed some of its criteria.
DOT Secretary Elaine Chou said that of the total awarded, highway and bridge projects received the largest share of the dollars, 69%, or more than $1 billion. The sum was split among 60 projects in that category.
She said rail projects got $165 million and $141 million was allocated to transit projects, or about 9% of the BUILD total. American Public Transportation Association President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas said in a statement, "We are encouraged that the percent of public transit grants has increased from the last fiscal year." APTA says transit got just 3.6% of the 2017 BUILD dollars.
Chao said ports received $146 million. The American Association of Port Authorities counts $229.2 million in BUILD "port-related" projects AAPA President and CEO said in a statement that those grants "will help leverage nearly $412 million in total project costs.
“It was super competitive,” said Deputy DOT Secretary Jeffrey Rosen. He said the department received 851 applications, which sought a total of $11 billion–far more than the amount available.
Given the demand for BUILD, Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), top Democrat on the transportation-housing appropriations subcommittee, said, “Clearly we can do more—we must do more.”
Rural areas did well in this BUILD round. Chao noted that before the Trump administration took office, 21% of the then-TIGER dollars went to rural projects. But she said that in the 2017 and 2018 BUILD rounds, "an effort was made to rebalance the underinvestment in rural communities to addreesss overlooked needs." In the new round, 62 of the grant-winning projects were rural.
A BUILD grant tends to provide only a portion of a project’s total cost. State DOTs, transit agencies and other applicants combine the grants with state, local, private or other federal funds.
Twelve projects each received $25 million, the maximum grant amount. Among them was a project to rehabilitate the Brooklyn Bridge’s iconic masonry arches and the foundations of the bridge’s approaches on either side of the East River.
Other $25-million winners include Louisiana, which will use the funds to help widen and rehabilitate 3.8 miles of Intestate 12, including a widening of the Tchefuncte River Bridge.
Names of some of the BUILD-winning projects had come to light in the days just before the DOT announcement, as the department notified senators and House members from those projects’ states and districts, who then announced the selections.
Story corrected on 12/12/2018 to say that 12 projects received the maximum $25-million grants.