Ms. Sarah Rios has extensive project management experience with particular expertise in capital grant funding, federal project requirements, and liaison with federal agencies. She has provided leadership to executives and staff, secured funding, and managed mega-project budgets for major New York transportation agencies.
“This is a big deal.” That’s the quote often heard among those of us with long-term experience in federally funded projects. Passed in November of 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a once-in-a-generation investment providing $1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending. $550 billion of that figure destined for “new” investments and programs in transportation, clean water, climate change mitigation, and internet access.
IIJA’s policy objectives are to invest in critical infrastructure projects having significant local or regional impact and that address climate change, racial equity, and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Funds approved will be balanced among the states and between rural and urban areas.
The IIJA brings both opportunities and challenges to the transportation sector. The projects will be selected by US Department of Transportation (USDOT) and will be administered under its respective modal agencies: the Federal Highway Administration; the Federal Transit Administration; and the Federal Railroad Administration. PMA anticipates a highly competitive push to access these funds, and we stand ready to assist our public sector clients in ensuring their projects meet IIJA’s criteria and policy objectives.
Funds will be received mainly through three channels: directly from the federal modal agency based on eligibility requirements; receiving suballocated funds through the state government and/or local metropolitan transportation planning organizations; or applying directly for competitive grant funds from USDOT through Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). USDOT has already solicited to date three NOFOs including:
- National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Mega) grant program (request due May 23, 2022)
- Standard Development for Bus Exportable Power Systems FY 2021 (request due June 13, 2022)
- Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program, (request due July 21, 2022).
Clients eligible to receive these federal funds must be governmental agencies equipped to receive these funds and to manage federal projects. The private sector will be involved in bidding for and constructing these projects under the authority of these entities. Basic requirements to be met include:
- Identify shovel-ready projects that meet the IIJA’s key policy goals.
- Involve community members, particularly in disadvantaged areas, in the planning and decision-making process.
- Request funding through various formula or discretionary programs.
- Expend funds within a specific timeframe.
- Meet federal process and requirements including:
- Project approval on the metropolitan planning organization Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or approval on the state planning organization’s Statewide Improvement Program (STIP)
- Federal procurement regulations
- “Buy American” requirements
- National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations
- Approval of all federal, state, and local permits
IIJA Transportation Objectives
Transportation-specific objectives of the IIJA include:
- Improve the condition, resilience, and safety of roads and bridges consistent with asset management plans.
- Bring streets and transportation facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Improve infrastructure to be more resilient to a changing climate.
- Accommodate new and emerging technologies such as electric vehicle charging stations, renewable energy generation, and broadband deployment in transportation rights-of-way.
- Address environmental impacts ranging from stormwater runoff to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Advance equitable access to transportation.
- Reconnect communities by including disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in the planning, project selection, and design process.
- Reduce GHG emissions of 50 percent by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050.
- Modernize bus, ferry, and rail fleets prioritizing new low or non-emission vehicles.
- Enhanced mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities.
- Improve access to transit service with substantial upgrades for accessibility.
- Upgrade aging transit infrastructure.
- Increase funding for new high-capacity transit projects.
Mega Grant Program
The Mega Program (known statutorily as the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program) supports large, complex projects that are difficult to fund by other means and likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility, or safety benefits. Applicants can use a single application to apply for up to three separate discretionary grant opportunities:
- Mega Grants: IIJA provides $5 billion in competitive grants for states, local governments, tribes, and other related organizations. Up to $1 billion will be awarded in FY 2022.
- INFRA Grants: IIJA provides $10.9 billion over 5 years for competitive grants including highway or bridge projects to add capacity or improve mobility, intermodal or freight projects, and rail-highway grade crossing separation. Up to $1.55 billion will be awarded for FY 2022.
- Rural Surface Transportation Grants: IIJA provides $1 billion in competitive grants to states, local governments, tribes, and regional transportation planning organizations. The program will provide funds to improve and expand the surface transportation infrastructure in rural areas to increase connectivity, improve the safety and reliability of the movement of people and freight, generate regional economic growth, and improve quality of life. $300 million will be given out in FY 2022.
Bus Exportable Power Systems Program
The Bus Exportable Power Systems program enables public transportation agencies, communities, and states to access resilient and flexible power options through bus fleet vehicles during major power disruptions. Communities and states often need options for generating power immediately after natural disasters. A total of $1 million will be awarded competitively for one or more projects that develop BEPS standards to advance widespread design and use of hybrid electric and fuel cell transit buses to be used as mobile power generators.
RAISE Grant Program
The popular Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program is awarding $1.5 billion in grants in FY 2022, representing a 50 percent increase over the previous year. This program helps communities across the nation fund projects with significant local or regional impact, especially in areas of persistent poverty or historically disadvantaged communities.
Enhanced RAISE project criteria offer an example of expectations for all IIJA applicants. Previously evaluated for safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, economic competitiveness and opportunity, state of good repair, and partnership and innovation; additional criteria now include a renewed emphasis on addressing climate change impacts; advancing racial equity; mobility and connectivity; universal design and accessibility; and supply chain efficiency. Returning applicants who planned to re-use materials prepared for prior submittals should intensively review their applications to ensure they meet the new RAISE-IIJA requirements.
As the IIJA is being funded over fiscal years 2022 through 2026, government entities must be ready to meet this challenge with timely action:
- Conduct a review of capital program to identify transportation projects to be implemented over a five-year period.
- Group these projects by categories to identify grant opportunities and decide which funding to pursue, based on IIJA’s unique requirements.
- Prepare a summary of each project identifying proposed improvements including location, length of project, cost estimate, proposed schedule, current development status, project condition, proposed benefits, and other relevant information to meet IIJA grant requirements.
- From the list, prioritize projects that:
- Meet IIJA policy objectives outlined above
- Meet federal environmental and procurement requirements
- Constitute “shovel-ready” projects that could request funding immediately
- Based on the project candidates selected, develop a schedule to determine project/program match and to identify grant applications that must be developed, reviewed, and submitted per prescribed deadlines.
Many funding opportunities will require a cost/benefit analysis before selection and a risk assessment if awarded. PMA is highly qualified to provide a well-defined and integrated risk management process that maximizes value through judicious use of time and money.
Constructing safe and reliable infrastructure is key to developing vibrant, connected communities and economies. The opportunities afforded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are just the beginning of an exciting new era of expanding investment and new client partnerships.