Federal grants to boost US freight projects

Federal grants to boost US freight projects

The US Department of Transportation is now accepting applications for up to $900 million in Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants for the fiscal 2019 year. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

US freight improvement projects from rail to ports can compete for an infusion of as much as $25 million each through the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT’s) Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) fiscal year 2019 grants, formerly the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

Congress appropriated a total of $900 million to the program, a significant decline from the $1.5 billion in last year’s awards. Nevertheless, the South Carolina Ports Authority received $25 million in the previous round to make rail improvements near Inland Port Greer, and Port Arthur, Texas, received $20 million to upgrade two berths.

The list of freight projects in need of money is much longer and costlier than any single round of funding. The Coalition for America’s Gateways & Trade Corridors in 2017 put out a nearly 100-page booklet detailing projects in need of cash. Every major port on the West Coast has a project on the list, but most of the impactful ones for cargo owners that cost more than $500 million would require grants from the Army Corps of Engineers, which doesn’t have a $25 million cap. Port projects’ berth expansions or terminal modernizations benefit from these programs.

“These BUILD Transportation grants will provide needed infrastructure investment to better connect rural and urban communities around our nation,” US Transport Secretary Elaine Chao said.

No more than $90 million can be awarded to any single state. No more than $450 million can be awarded to either rural or urban projects as a whole. Projects still in the planning or design phases cannot receive more than $15 million.

There are five primary criteria to evaluating road, rail, and port projects.

First, the USDOT will determine how the project lowers the number or severity of crashes, eliminates dangerous rail-road at grade crossings, or prevents the release of hazardous materials. Second, the USDOT will assess how a project solves a situation that, if unaddressed, would threaten the future transportation network and harm mobility, fluidity, or economic growth.

Third, a project must improve the movement of goods, create economic opportunities, or help the US “compete in a global economy by facilitating efficient and reliable freight movement.” A project must improve the environment in some way by either reducing pollution to the water or air.

Lastly, a difficult hurdle for freight projects, a project should improve transportation access to citizens or to essential services. The USDOT also considers any innovative technologies, project delivery, or financing as a secondary criterion.

Applications are due by July 15.

Contact Ari Ashe at ari.ashe@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @arijashe.