The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has opened the competition for grants from a new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act program that aims to restore neighborhood links to workplaces, schools and other resources that were severed by old highways, rail lines and other transportation infrastructure built sometimes many years ago.

DOT announced on June 30 that it will begin to take applications for the IIJA-created Reconnecting Communities pilot program.

Compared with other U.S. DOT infrastructure act programs—and President Joe Biden's March 2021 proposal of $20 billion—the reconnecting communities’ funding is modest, totaling $1 billion over five years. 

The initial year’s allotment will be $195 million. Of that, $50 million will be set aside for planning grants and technical assistance; the other $145 million will go for capital construction grants.

The deadline for applications for both types of grants is Oct. 13. DOT says it expects to announce the grant awards in early 2023.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters in a June 29 briefing to preview the program, “Unlike a lot of other policy mistakes or problems [an infrastructure barrier] is something that can’t be as easily reversed." 

Buttigieg noted that often an infrastructure project "by design, lasts for decades or even centuries, that is serving to divide, when the whole point of transportation is to connect.”

DOT officials acknowledge that $195 million per year will only stretch so far. "We know there's a huge demand for this program," Christopher Coes, DOT assistant secretary for transportation policy, said in the briefing.

He said DOT is encouraging recommended that states, cities and other applicants to use the new pilot program funding "as a catalyst and leveraging point" and combine it with dollars from other DOT programs and those from other federal agencies.

In its funding-availability notice, DOT said it “anticipates that capital construction grants may range from $5 million to $100 million.” Coes said the minimum construction grant is $5 million.

He noted that under the IIJA's requirements, DOT may only provide up to 50% of a project's costs. Given those limitations, Coes said that for construction grants, DOT is "looking at...three to 15 projects" per year.

Besides states and localities, applicants can include metropolitan planning organizations and nonprofits.

Dr. Michael McAfee, president and chief executive officer of PolicyLink, an organization that advocates for racial and economic equity, said in the briefing, “These investments give us a catalytic opportunity to lay the groundwork for spacial justice, a reckoning, repair and transformation of the American landscape."