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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: Week of June 13, 2022

Last week was a busy one in the transportation space as the Federal Highway Administration published multiple announcements regarding Bridge Funding, Tribal Safety funding and proposed rules for electrical vehicle charging infrastructure.

The Federal Transit Administration also launched a dashboard to track progress of funding applications under their Capital Improvement Grant program. The White House also suspended import duties on solar cells in the hopes of growing supply to meet the expected demand for solar energy. The White House also launched a new Broadband Affordability tool to help households take advantage of internet subsidies created by the IIJA. Finally, senior officials published a “Help Wanted” op-ed that encourages applicants for federal service to help deliver the programs created by the IIJA. What a week! If you are not a current Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update subscriber, subscribe now.

Key Recent Policy and Funding Happenings

FHWA Launches Bridge Investment Program 

The Federal Highway Administration published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Bridge Investment Program, making $2.36 billion available to plan, replace, rehabilitate, protect and preserve some of the nation’s largest bridges. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act created this competitive discretionary program with $12.5 billion over five years to support the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of existing bridges across the country to reduce the overall number of those bridges that are in poor condition or are at risk of declining into poor condition. Read the details in the White House news announcement.

The Bridge Investment Program allows multi-year grant agreements to fund large bridge projects by making it possible to take a project through pre-construction activities and into construction. Pre-construction activities funded through the program may include planning, feasibility analysis, and revenue forecasting. Construction grants are available in two buckets — those for projects over $100 million (large bridge projects) and those under $100 million (bridge projects). Taken together, there are three different types of grants: planning grants, “bridge projects” and “large bridge projects.” 

Important notes regarding the program:

  • Applicants can apply for any of the three categories, but each category has distinct eligibility and selection criteria and application deadlines.
  • If applying for a planning grant, the project should reasonably expect to start construction within 18 months of receiving planning grant funds; $20 million is available for planning grants in FY 2022. There is no minimum grant size for planning grants.
  • For Bridge Projects and Large Bridge Projects, the U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to fund projects that have completed the environmental review process and ready to move to construction.
  • Large Bridge Project grant minimum is $50 million and cannot be more than 50% of the total project cost.
  • Bridge Project grants must be at least $2.5 million and cannot be more than 80% of the total project cost.
  • Application deadlines:
    • Planning Project Applications are due July 25, 2022
    • Large Bridge Project Applications are due August 9, 2022
    • Bridge Project Applications are due September 8, 2022

You can read more about other discretionary funding opportunities in our Advisory Services Policy Brief.

FHWA Proposes National Standards for Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

FHWA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting minimum standards and requirements for projects funded under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program and projects for the construction of publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers. Currently, there are no national standards for the installation, operation or maintenance of EV charging stations, and wide disparities exists among EV charging stations in key components, such as operational practices, payment methods, site organization, displaying the price to charge, speed and power of chargers, and others. As required by the IIJA, FHWA must ensure that standards apply to all projects that install EV charging infrastructure using funds provided under Title 23 — which means any FHWA funding that goes to EV charging requires that the infrastructure meet these minimum standards. The NPRM proposes minimum standards in six areas:

  1. Installation, operation, and maintenance by qualified technicians of EV infrastructure
  2. Interoperability of EV charging infrastructure
  3. Traffic control devices and on-premise signs acquired, installed or operated
  4. Data requested related to a project funded under the NEVI program including the format and schedule for the submission of such data.
  5. Network connectivity of EV charging infrastructure
  6. Information on publicly available EV charging infrastructure locations, pricing, real-time availability, and accessibility through mapping applications.

The press release describing the NPRM also announced a new Electric Vehicle Working Group that will make recommendations regarding the development, adoption, and integration of EVs into America’s transportation and energy systems. The working group consists of 25 representatives, federal government employees, and special government employees and will compile reports on EV adoption, determine how to ensure sustainable integration of EVs into the electrical grid, prepare the workforce for more EVs and other activities. The Department of Energy will publish the member nomination process soon.

You can read more about Zero Emission Transportation Programs from the IIJA in our Advisory Services Policy Brief.

Tribal Transportation Program Safety Funds Available

FHWA announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Tribal Transportation Program Safety Fund, making between $23 million and $25 million for each fiscal year between 2022 and 2026. FY 2022 applications are due September 15, 2022 and then each following fiscal year applications are due on January 15 of each year. Funds available through this program support the National Roadway Safety Strategy to prevent and reduce death or serious injuries in transportation-related crashes. Federally recognized Indian Tribes are the only eligible recipients of funds and there is no match requirement.

FTA Launches Project Dashboard 

As required by the IIJA, FTA published a new dashboard to track the progress of projects in the Capital Investment Grant program, providing on data and the status of key milestones for New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity projects seeking CIG funding. Information is updated monthly based on progress reported by projects sponsors and FTA’s Office of Planning and Environment. The Current CIG project page lists projects currently receiving construction grant payouts our those seeking CIG funding and also links to the Dashboard.

White House Allows Duty-Free Imports of Solar Cells 

The White House declared an emergency related to the availability of solar modules to meet increasing demand. In response to this emergency, the President directed the Secretary of Commerce to take necessary steps to allow for the importation of solar cells and modules that originate in Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. This temporary relief of import duties on solar components manufactured in these countries will help ensure that we have sufficient supplies to expand our solar energy production to meet new capacity needs. The waiver is for two years and is seen as a necessary step to support the nation’s transition to clean, renewable energy production.

Broadband Affordability Tool

The White House also took steps to connect Americans with affordable broadband service by publishing a new Broadband Affordability Tool that supports the Affordable Connectivity Program. The Affordable Connectivity Program provides eligible households $30/month off their internet bills (up to $75/month for households on Tribal lands).   

White House Hiring 8,000 Employees to Support IIJA Implementation

Finally, in recognition of the crush of administrative oversight and other responsibilities that the executive branch must oversee, the White House recently announced its intention to hire 8,000 employees to support IIJA implementation. The op-ed authored by White House IIJA Implementation Lead Mitch Landrieu and Office of Personnel Management Director, Kiran Ahuja, encourages qualified applicants to explore job opportunities on BIL.USAjobs.gov. This latest push follows the six-month summary released in May that announced the intent to hire “8000 essential and mission-driven roles to implement the law.”

Without adequate staffing at the agencies, it will be difficult to administer the numerous new programs and the volume of project-related work that everyone anticipates. This is an area to keep close watch of as government resources could ultimately limit the effectiveness of the $1.2 trillion investment.

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