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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: Week of May 16, 2022

This was a busier than usual week on the infrastructure funding and policy front with billions of funding made available for broadband deployment, new programs to expand transmission line deployment and intercity passenger rail corridors (not the same program, mind you) as well as new strategies to accelerate the permitting of all of this infrastructure. This is a longer than usual summary of key happenings in this space from last week so we've linked to topic areas for easy navigation. If you are not a current Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update subscriber, subscribe now.

Key Recent Policy and Funding Happenings

Broadband Announcements 

Department of Commerce Announces $45 Billion Broadband For All Programs 

The Department of Commerce announced funding opportunities for three broadband programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: 

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program funds projects that expand high-speed internet access including the planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and U.S. territories. This initial funding announcement allocates a minimum of $100 million to each state and $25 million to each territory. States and territories may request up to $5 million and $1.25 million respectively to support Initial Planning for broadband deployment. The Notice of Funding Opportunity requires that states seeking to access broadband planning funds must complete a Letter of Intent and submit to the National Telecommunications Information Administration no later than July 18, 2022. 

The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program provides funding for middle-mile infrastructure that connects local networks with high-capacity national and regional networks to deliver high-speed internet to communities. Applicants must submit a complete application by September 30, 2022, with awards expected no earlier than March 1, 2023. Read the NOFO. 

This initial allocation of $300 million the State Digital Equity Act Program will support states and territories in developing State Digital Equity Plans, with $60 million appropriated for State Digital Equity Planning Grants and $240 million for State Digital Equity Capacity Grants. Interested states and territories that wish to access the planning funds must submit a Letter of Intent by July 12, 2022. The NOFO is available here

HDR will provide additional analysis of these programs in the coming weeks. You can also read our initial summary of the IIJA broadband provisions in our Advisory Services Brief

White House Announces Broadband Affordability 

In addition to making billions available for broadband infrastructure deployment, the White House also announced partnerships with 20 of the largest internet providers that will ensure that millions of Americans will have access to more affordable high-speed internet. The Affordable Connectivity Program, created through the IIJA, allows millions of American households to reduce their internet service costs by up to $30/month (or $75/month on Tribal lands). In addition to the subsidy provided by the IIJA, the partnership announced by the White House will ensure that eligible households will have high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month. 

NTIA Releases Tribal Broadband Planning Toolkit 

Supporting the planning and deployment of broadband on Tribal lands, the NTIA released a Tribal Broadband Planning Toolkit that aims to simplify the process for Tribal communities. The toolkit provides common elements that serve as the building blocks of a tribal broadband plan and includes a guide to help communities assess their strengths, a broadband planning checklist, and list of key terms and resources. 

White House Releases Permitting Action Plan to Accelerate Infrastructure Approvals 

Recognizing the need to take concrete steps to accelerate environmental reviews and approvals to enable the influx of funding from the IIJA, the White House announced a “Permitting Action Plan to Accelerate and Deliver Infrastructure Projects On Time, On Task, and On Budget.” The Biden-Harris Permitting Action Plan establishes that Federal environmental review and permitting processes will be:   

  • Effective, efficient, and transparent to accelerate delivery of well-designed infrastructure projects, to ensure predictability and timeliness for project sponsors and stakeholders
  • Guided by the best science, information, and complete environmental effects analysis to promote the best outcomes; and
  • Shaped by early and meaningful public input – particularly from disadvantaged communities and through partnership with State, territorial, and local governments and in consultation with Tribal Nations to deliver results for all Americans.

To deliver on these expectations, the Action Plan contains five key elements that build on strengthened Federal approaches to environmental reviews and permitting: (1) accelerating permitting through early cross-agency coordination to appropriately scope reviews, reduce bottlenecks, and use the expertise of sector-specific teams; (2) establishing clear timeline goals and tracking key project information to improve transparency and accountability, providing increased certainty for project sponsors and the public; (3) engaging in early and meaningful outreach and communication with Tribal Nations, States, territories, and local communities; (4) improving agency responsiveness, technical assistance, and support to navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently; and (5) adequately resourcing agencies and using the environmental review process to improve environmental and community outcomes. 

Department of Energy News 

Department of Energy Releases NOI/RFI Regarding Transmission Facilitation Program 

The Department of Energy is standing up a $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program to help build out new interregional electric transmission lines across the country. The Notice of Intent/Request for Information (NOI/RFI) published on May 12, 2022, seeks input from all stakeholders regarding the application process, criteria for qualification, and selection of eligible projects as outlined in the NOI. Comments on the NOI/RFI are due by June 13, 2022. 

Department of Energy announces $3.16 billion to Support Domestic Battery Manufacturing and Supply Chains 

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced the availability of $3.1 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make more batteries and components in America and bolster the domestic supply chain. The funding will support the creation of new, retrofitted, and expanded commercial facilities as well as manufacturing demonstrations and better recycling. Effectively deploying this funding is critical to achieving the President’s goal of transitioning to broader adoption of electric vehicles. DOE also announced a separate $60 million to support second-life applications for batteries once used to power electric vehicles. 

The Funding Opportunity Announcement is available here with letters of intent to pursue funding due by May 27, 2022 at 5:00 PM Eastern and full applications due by July 1, 2022 at 5 p.m. EDT. 

Department of Transportation News 

FHWA Announces Additional Bridge Funding and New Bridge Inspection Standards 

With Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations, the FHWA announced an additional $1.14 billion in funding for bridge replacement that will be apportioned to the states through the Bridge Formula Program. FHWA also announced updates on the National Bridge Inspection Standards to help improve bridge safety by ensuring the uniformity of inspections and evaluations, clarifying responsibilities, and requiring actions for higher risk issues. Read the NBIS updates

MARAD Announces Increase in Pool of Funding for PIDP 

Similar to the plus up of bridge funding, the 2022 appropriations provided additional funds for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, adding $230 million to the $450 million appropriated by the IIJA for a grand total of $684.3 million, nearly three times the amount available in FY 2021!  MARAD published an amendment to the PIDP NOFO, updating the total amounts available but leaving the rest of the program unchanged. 

FRA publishes Notice Establishing Corridor Identification Program and Requests Expressions of Interest 

The Corridor Identification Program, as described by the FRA, will establish a pipeline of passenger rail projects ready for funding, serving as a key vehicle for directing federal investment and technical assistance toward new or improved intercity passenger rail services across the nation. 

"Americans deserve what people in many other countries currently benefit from: a world-class rail system that allows you to get where you need to go quickly and affordably, while reducing traffic and pollution on our roads," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "In launching the Corridor Identification and Development Program, which was made possible thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking a major step to transform America's passenger rail network and connect our smallest towns and our biggest cities with great train service." 

The FRA published the Notice of Establishment/Request for Expressions of Interest in the Federal Register on May 13, encouraging eligible entities interested in submitting a corridor proposal under the program to submit a comment to the docket. A formal solicitation of proposals to participate in the Corridor ID program is expected in the last quarter of the 2022 calendar year. 

Safe Streets and Roads for All Funding Announced

The Department announced $1 billion in funding for the Safe Streets and Roads For All Program (SSR4A) with this NOFO requesting applications by September 15, 2022. The grants under this program will support planning infrastructure, behavioral, and operational initiatives to prevent death and serious injury on roads and streets involving all roadway users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists and commercial vehicle operators. SS4A grants are intended to improve roadway safety by significantly reducing or eliminating roadway fatalities and serious injuries through safety action plan development and implementation.  The program funds two different types of grants: Action Plan Grants (for comprehensive safety action plans) and Implementation Grants.  More information is available on the SSR4A website. 

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