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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: Week of October 17, 2022

I recently relocated from Washington, D.C. to Savannah, GA ending a memorable 16-year run in our nation’s capital. As a native Kansan, I am quite familiar with thunderstorms, tornadoes, and the occasional flash flooding but during my time in D.C., I encountered a few unfamiliar weather events, including multiple snowpocalypses (I’m not sure what the plural of apocalypse is) as well as a derecho. Ian was the first hurricane I’ve experienced. Folks in my immediate area were extremely fortunate to avoid the brunt of Ian’s force, but the wind on the coast and the surf in the Atlantic Ocean was whipped into a frenzy as Ian was moving north. School was canceled because we had no idea where the hurricane would track (also a new experience – tornadoes and severe thunderstorms typically go in a relatively straight line, west to east). Since the kids were home, we took a quick trip out to Tybee Island to witness the power of the storm and get a safe but close view of the damaging winds and storm surge. It was impressive and something the kids won’t soon forget. We traveled to Jacksonville for soccer this past weekend and saw several disaster recovery vehicles heading back north along I-95, having completed what work they could to help Floridians on the Gulf Coast. The frequency and severity of extreme weather is expected to increase, making investments in resilient and sustainable infrastructure essential.

On to the updates! The White House announced a new plan to accelerate delivery of infrastructure funded through the IIJA, U.S. Department of Transportation announced more funding, U.S. Department of Energy announced more funding, the Environmental Protection Agency initiates rulemaking on air quality standards, U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks comment on an Inflation Reduction Act program that provides funding to historically disadvantaged farmers, and the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the first awards for digital equity and five-year broadband action planning. There’s a little bit for everyone – click the links below if you want to jump to a particular topic.

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Key Recent Policy and Funding Happenings

White House

White House Releases Action Plan for Accelerating Infrastructure Delivery

$1.2 trillion in funding for infrastructure does not come without its challenges (see the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s findings, for example). Everyone recognizes that it’s a lot of money, flowing through new programs with not a lot of time or staff to deliver the programs. In response, the White House and the implementing agencies developed an Action Plan to Accelerate Infrastructure Delivery. This Action Plan builds off of the Permitting Action Plan released in May of 2022 and focuses its actions on the following key principles:

  • Delivering Projects on Time
  • Staying on Task
  • Delivering Projects on Budget

You can read the fact sheet here. The announcement of the Action Plan coincided with an Accelerating Infrastructure Summit held on October 13 where various Administration officials moderated panels of state of local leaders who shared their experiences and challenges in delivering infrastructure under the IIJA. An AASHTO report sums up the transportation panel nicely.

U.S. Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation made a number of announcements regarding available funding through both discretionary and formula programs as well as announcing actions to increase safety, enhance public involvement and provide targeted technical assistance.

Funding Awards

  • Bridge Investment Program Grants Announced. FHWA announced the first round of planning grants under the Bridge Investment Program. The $18.4 million in grants went to 23 projects in 23 states, funding the planning, feasibility analysis, and revenue forecasting of bridge improvements. U.S. Department of Transportation sees the planning program as creating a “pipeline of bridge projects that can potentially be awarded construction grants during the implementation of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

  • Marine Highway Grants Announced. The Maritime Administration announced that 12 marine highway projects received nearly $39 million to expand marine highway services on the nation’s navigable waterways to reduce congestion, alleviate supply chain bottlenecks, and move goods more quickly from ships to shelves. The Marine Highway Program, under MARAD, seeks to develop and expand marine highway service and integrate marine transport into the surface transportation system, and foster growth in marine transport as an efficient, effective, and sustainable option.

Funding Availability

  • FY 2023 Federal-Aid Formula Apportionments Announced. FHWA announced the release of nearly $60 billion in Fiscal Year 2023 apportionments for 12 formula programs to support investment in critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and tunnels, carbon emission reduction, and safety improvements. These FY23 apportionments include a 391% increase in the Bridge Formula Program over FY 21 apportionments. The full distribution of funds to all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico can be found here

  • FHWA Announces $196 Million Available for Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration. The National Culvert Removal, Replacement, and Restoration Grant Program, created by the IIJA, funds Aquatic Organism Passage (AOP) through competitive grants that “would meaningfully improve or restore fish passage for anadromous fish.” The NOFO indicates that applications are due February 6, 2023 and grants may not exceed $20M for any individual project and may not be less than $10,000. Eligible applicants include states, units of local government and Indian Tribes. We’ll post a Grant Summary soon and link to it in our next policy and funding update.

  • FTA Announced Funding to Replace Aging Railcars. The Federal Transit Administration announced that it is making $600 million available to replace aging railcars through the Rail Vehicle Replacement Program. The Notice of Funding Opportunity is open with applications accepted through 11:59 PM Eastern, January 5, 2023.

  • Transportation Financing Maximized for Transit Projects and Transit Oriented Development. Although not quite the same as a NOFO, the Department did announce its intention to “offer low-cost and flexible financing for transit and transit-oriented development (TOD) projects at the maximum level authorized under law.” The new initiative, “TIFIA 49” authorizes borrowing up to 49% of eligible project costs for certain projects, substantially increasing the historic cap of 33% of total project costs.

Other DOT and Transportation Announcements of Note

  • National Roadway Strategy Actions Announced. U.S. Department of Transportation issued an update on its National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) and launched an online dashboard that allows stakeholders and the general public to track the Department’s progress on commitments made as part of the NRSS. You can read the press release here.

  • New Public Involvement Guide Available. The Department published Promising Practices for Meaningful Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making. This new guidance document contains promising practices that can help U.S. Department of Transportation funding recipients meet the requirements of meaningful public involvement and participation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other existing requirements. The announcement describes the guide as “provid[ing] promising practices and concrete examples of what constitutes meaningful public involvement to help address…barriers to inclusion in transportation decision-making.”

  • Thriving Communities Program Offers Technical Assistance. U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development released additional information about the $30 million program that will allow the agencies to provide technical assistance to help communities access grants and opportunities, diversifying the pipeline of projects seeking funding and financing under the IIJA. U.S. Department of Transportation released both a cCall for Letters of Interest from community leaders seeking support from the program as well as a Notice of Funding Opportunity for capacity builders. The NOFO Call for Letters will be is open until November 22, 2022.

  • Six Sate DOT’s Sign “Equity in Infrastructure” Pledge. California, Washington D.C., Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, and Michigan pledged to create opportunities for historically underutilized businesses as they disburse funding under the IIJA. A full report from AASHTO is available here.

U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy was at a slight disadvantage in implementing the IIJA as so many of the programs funded were new, created by the legislation, and DOE has had to do its homework to stand up these new programs, some of which are still in development. Recently, DOE successfully launched the financing program, CIFIA, and took another important step in rolling out a billion dollars for energy investments in rural and remote areas.

$2 Billion Carbon Dioxide Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program Launched

DOE is inviting letters of interest from applicants seeking loans under the new $2.1 billion CiFIA CIFIA program, created by the IIJA. The program offers funding for large-capacity, shared carbon dioxide transportation projects located in the U.S. Eligible projects include pipelines, rail transportation, ships and barges, and ground shipping, that connect anthropogenic sources of carbon with endpoints for its storage or utilization. The CIFIA program is a big step towards making these projects financially feasible and should generate innovation in this space.

Request for Information Seeks Input on $1 Billion Program to Improve Energy Systems in Rural or Remote Areas

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a request for information, seeking public input on implementation of the Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas Program, a $1 billion program created by the IIJA. Specifically, the RFI seeks input on the types of energy demonstration projects, programmatic design considerations, equity, environmental and energy justice and workforce and transfer of knowledge gained through demonstrations to ensure that projects selected are scalable and replicable. Note – the links on the DOE site that direct to the RFI appear corrupted and do not launch the PDF of the RFI as intended.

DOE Seeks Input on How Defense Production Act Could Support National Security by Strengthening Grid Reliability

DOE published another request for information, this time seeking input on how the agency could best leverage the Defense Production Act authority to accelerate domestic production of key technologies, strengthen U.S. power grid reliability, and deploy clean energy. Specifically, DOE is seeking input on how to use the special authority to address:

  • Technology supply chain challenges and opportunities

     

  • Domestic manufacturing
  • American workforce investment
  • Energy equity, community access, and economic benefit

The announcement by DOE is here.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Revisions to Federal Air Rules for Reservations

Created in 2005, the Federal Air Rules for Reservations (FARR) are a set of basic air quality regulations established under the Clean Air Act that applies to 39 Indian reservations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The proposed revisions clarify aspects of the rules, seek to improve implementation, incorporate recent air quality improvement strategies and extend the FARR to three new reservation lands. Public comment on the proposed changes is accepted through January 10, 2023. More information is available on the FARR website.

Proposed Changes to New Source Review Permitting – Reconsideration of Fugitive Emissions Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing revisions to the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review permitting regulations, requiring facility owners/operators of all existing industrial facilities considered “major sources” to include “fugitive” emissions of air pollutants when determining whether a physical or operational change at their facilities is a “major modification” which would need a major NSR permit before starting construction. You can read the proposed rule and the Environmental Protection Agency’s fact sheet.

HDR has air quality experts much smarter than me (truthfully a low bar) who are reviewing this rule and available to answer questions regarding potential impacts to existing facilities should the rule go final.

The Environmental Protection Agency Announces Opportunities for Public Input on Environmental Justice for the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements

The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to update the Lead and Copper Rule which regulates lead and copper in public drinking water systems. In January, 2021, before President Biden took office, the Environmental Protection Agency issued Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) which the Biden team subsequently delayed, ultimately resulting in this latest effort to make Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI). Parts of the LCRR will go into effect while the Environmental Protection Agency considers the LCRI. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. The Environmental Protection Agency is inviting public participation in virtual public meetings where the agency will share information on the upcoming LCRI rulemaking and allow participants to provide comment on environmental justice considerations that should be included in the LCRI. Those interested in participating can register here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Although not typically an agency we focus on in these updates, this recent action by the agency touches on equity and environmental justice, two topics we try to highlight in federal policy where we can and I felt this action was worth noting.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Seeks Public Input on Providing Financial Assistance for Producers and Landowners Determined to Have Experienced Discrimination

The Inflation Reduction Act directs the Department of Agriculture to provide financial assistance for producers and landowners determined to have experienced discrimination through farm lending programs. To help design and implement policy in accordance with the statutory requirement, U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public input through a Request for Information. Responses to the RFI are due before 11:59 PM Eastern on November 14, 2022.

U.S. Department of Commerce

When we’re talking U.S. Department of Commerce, we’re usually talking broadband and this update is no different.

Ohio Receives $6.47M Internet for All Planning Grants

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that it had awarded Ohio $5M 5 million in Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program planning funds as well as $1.47M in Digital Equity planning funds. Ohio represents the first to receive these planning dollars of the 50 states and four territories that are eligible. With this award, the 270-day clock starts for Ohio to develop its 5-year Action Plan detailing how it will identify and prioritize deployment activities with the nearly $1billion of BEAD funding that is likely headed its way. According to NTIA, every eligible state and territory submitted documentation to support their request for the BEAD program’s initial planning funds so we expect to see 53 more of these announcements over the coming weeks and months.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Hits Milestone: More Than $1 Billion Awarded for High-Speed Internet Projects

More good news on the digital equity front, the NTIA announced that it had awarded more than $1.3 billion through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, supporting 94 Tribal entities. The TBCP grants will expand high-speed internet network deployment and digital skills training to improve access to education, jobs, and healthcare on Tribal lands.

Eric Beightel | HDR | advisory services
Principal Infrastructure Policy/Environmental Strategist
Nathan Macek
Infrastructure Finance Director
Kathryn Roos
Strategic Consultant
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