States have received another injection of highway funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act —the first installment of $7.3 billion from a new IIJA program aimed at projects that strengthen highways, bridges, transit and port infrastructure against the threatening impacts of climate change-fueled storms, wildfires and other natural disasters.

The program, which the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced on July 29, is dubbed PROTECT, for Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-Saving Transportation. To get it started, U.S. DOT's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has apportioned more than $1.4 billion among the states. That represents the fiscal year 2022 portion of the five-year program. Funds are being distributed among states by formula.

Although FHWA is overseeing the PROTECT program, its funds can go for public transit and port projects, as well as highways and bridges.

Top Five States Receiving Funds

• Texas will receive the largest share of the PROTECT funds, with $729.2 million over five years, including $140.1 million this year;

• California ranks second, with $631.4 million, including $121.3 million in 2022;

• Florida is third, with $364.3 million, including $70 million this year;

• Pennsylvania ranks fourth, receiving $301.2 million, $57.9 million in 2022;

• New York is fifth, with $293.1 million, including $56.3 million this year.

(View fiscal 2022 state-by-state allocations here and five-year allocations here)

Flexibility in Deployment

Speaking at an event in Salt Lake City, to introduce PROTECT, U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the program provides the resources the DOTs and "local governments need to invest in transportation resilience and move fast when an incident occurs."

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), told attendees at the event, the "program will help us prepare for natural disasters and give us the ability to think long term.”

Cox said that his state could use PROTECT funds for work to restore areas of "burn scars" left after wildfires or take steps to prevent rock slides or avalanches or to keep roads open after such disasters. Specific actions could include such tasks increasing the size of culverts.

A wide range of project types are eligible for funds, notes Susan Howard, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials director of policy and government relations. "I think there's some pretty broad eligibility there that states will be able to tap into," Howard said in an interview.

She also says that state DOTs see having the funds distributed by formula as "critical to the national efforts to improve infrastructure resiliency."

According to an FHWA fact sheet and the agency's detailed guidance document, states can use up to 40% of their allocation totals to build new capacity, and can use up to 10% of their allotment for “development phase activities," such as planning, preliminary engineering, design environmental review and other preconstruction work.

States also can transfer up to half of their PROTECT money to other federal-aid highway categories, such as the National Highway Program, Surface Transportation Block Grants, Highway Safety, Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality, National Highway Freight and a newly launched program for carbon reduction.

Some types of eligible construction projects in "at-risk" coastal areas include strengthening, elevating or relocating bridges, roads, walkways and culverts.

PROTECT-funded projects generally require a 20% nonfederal match, which is common for federal-aid highway projects.

But in a creative, budget-stretching incentive feature, FHWA says states can reduce their nonfederal shares by seven percentage points if they develop a “resilience improvement plan" and make a project a priority under that plan. 

States also can trim their nonfederal share by an additional three percentage points if their resilience plan also is incorporated into a metropolitan area or a long-range state transportation plan.