Industry officials see room for improvements. Geoffrey Yarema, a partner in law firm Nossaman LLP’s infrastructure practice group, gave the Senate committee several recommendations, such as streamlining the pre-application process, including TIFIA seekers’ letters of intent and the DOT credit review. Yarema also recommended DOT provide “conditional commitments” to projects before the project sponsors get bids for the contracts, which, he said, would increase competition for the work.

Jim Roberts, the Granite Construction Inc. president and CEO who testified for the Associated General Contractors of America, said there seems to have been “a noticeable slowdown” in TIFIA financing since MAP-21 was enacted. Among his recommendations are having DOT develop educational materials and training advisers to help more states apply for TIFIA aid and having TIFIA help establish an investment-grade rating for projects that are close to that status but unable to achieve it on their own.

James Bass, chief financial officer of the Texas DOT, which has received $3.4 billion in TIFIA loans so far, recommended that U.S. DOT reconsider its apparent policy of generally limiting TIFIA loan amounts to 33% of a project’s total cost. TIFIA’s statutory cap had been 33%, but MAP-21 hiked that limit to 49%.

But Foxx said DOT likes the 33% cap. He told reporters, “The bottom line is, we’d like to keep our TIFIA projects at 33% on a direct loan. We have the flexibility because of MAP-21 to go higher than that, but ... the more we go up on that percentage, the fewer projects we can do in other parts of the country.”

Boxer praised the recommendations from Yarema, Roberts, Bass and other witnesses and said she planned to send a letter to Foxx outlining suggested TIFIA improvements. She said she wanted to include Vitter in drafting that letter.

States and localities are drawn to TIFIA loans' low interest rate—3.59% as of July 25—and lengthy payback period. They also like TIFIA's financial leverage ratio of at least 30:1. Each dollar in direct federal TIFIA subsidies supports $10 in loan volume, which supplements another $20 on project financing from grants and other sources.