The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded $1 billion to 70 projects in 44 states in the latest round of its Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants for improvements to highways, bridges, transit systems and other types of infrastructure.

The winning submissions, which DOT announced on Sept. 16, leaned strongly toward highways, roads and bridges, which accounted for more than 75% of the projects selected.

[View DOT project-by-project summaries of winning entries here.]

As with earlier rounds of the grant program, which was launched in 2009, competition was intense for the funds. A DOT spokesman told ENR that the department received 656 applications, which requested nearly $9.2 billion. Only $1 billion was available.

Of the 70 winning entries, 58 were for capital projects, receiving a total of about $980 million.

The other 12 winners were for planning, and accounted for a combined $20 million.

Maximum grants

As specified by Congress, the maximum grant amount was $25 million. Six projects were awarded that amount: two in Texas and one each in Florida, Iowa, Maine and Pennsylvania.

For example, Maine's BUILD grant will help finance the $40.5-million replacement of the Ticonic Bridge over the Kennebec River, connecting Waterville and Winslow.

According to the Maine Dept. of Transportation's application, the bridge "has deteriorated to the point that the end of its useful life is near and further attempts to repair or rehabilitate it will not restore the full integrity of the bridge to meet today's safety needs, load requirements or geometric standards for regional rural residents."

Congress also capped the total grant amount for an individual state at $100 million.

By ENR’s calculation, Texas received the largest amount of BUILD dollars in this round, with two projects totaling $50 million. Florida was next, with two projects totaling $49 million.

Highways' leading share

A range of types of projects was eligible for the BUILD grants, but the winners were overwhelmingly highway and bridge projects. That category accounted 54 awards or 77% of the total selected, the DOT spokesman said.

In a distant second place was transit, with eight winning projects, or 11% of the total. Next were maritime projects, with five grantees, or 7%.

Two rail projects and one aviation project accounted for the rest of the winners.

That breakdown is consistent with the 2017-2018 awards under the Trump administration and differs greatly from the fiscal 2009-2016 period, under the Obama administration, according to data in a Congressional Research Service report on the TIGER-BUILD program.

The CRS report shows that in 2009-2016, road projects received 33% of the grant dollars and transit got 27%, in constant 2019 dollars. [See table, p. 10 of report.] By comparison, in 2017-2018, roads accounted for 71% of the program's grant dollars and transit received 8%.

One constant over the years is that the grants still typically provide only a portion of a project’s total costs. States, localities and other grantees supplement the BUILD dollars with other types of federal or nonfederal funding.

In DOT’s 2020 appropriations measure, Congress also directed that no more than half of the total grant amount should go for projects in rural areas or for projects in urban areas.

In announcing the awards, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao noted that the large share of dollars going to rural projects also is in line with the administration’s Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) rural transportation initiative. [See ENR 10/8/2020 story here.]

Congress created the program in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Obama administration later renamed the awards TIGER grants, for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

In fiscal 2018, the Trump administration DOT changed the name to BUILD.