NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS: THE BUILD GRANT PROGRAM
The Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Act included $1.5 billion in funding for everyone's favorite program, formerly known as TIGER surface transportation discretionary grants. This cycle of BUILD grants will cap maximum awards at $25 million apiece. Special consideration for rural grants is made, and TIFIA subsidies are an eligible purpose. Funds must be obligated by 2020.
Conceived as part of the emergency stimulus measures during the height of the Financial Crisis the first TIGER program received $1.5 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. This program demonstrated a shift in policy, practice and philosophy at the top levels of DOT. The grants were competitive, a distinction in a sector where most funding has been allocated historically through formulas or earmarks. Eligibility was broad, allowing the smallest public entities to compete independently. The program was intentionally cross-modal, inviting applications for all types of surface transportation projects, with an emphasis on multimodal activities. Finally the program established a matrix of criteria for application assessment aligned with DOT’s strategic policy goals, including a requirement to submit a benefit-cost analysis that quantified in dollar terms a range of public impacts of the proposed project. DOT’s current selection criteria consist of: safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, environmental protetion, quality of life, innovation, partnership, and non-federal revenue for transportation infrastructure investment. Project readiness is an important competitive consideration.
DOT was required by Congress to make awards in a balanced fashion that provided regional equity. The first TIGER grant program was wildly oversubscribed. For $1.5 billion in available funds over $59 billion in funding requests were made. The program's extreme popularity demonstrated that policymakers had identified a niche with significant public demand for this type of investment. Subsequent TIGER programs received appropriations of approximately ½ billion per year. DOT maintained the criteria framework but shifted the emphasis from stimulus and job creation to the longer term benefits. DOT also provided significant technical guidance to applicants, especially for the methodology for benefit-cost analyses. The range of size of grant awards dropped with typical awards ending up in the $10 million range. Non-federal matching funds over time have become an increasingly important TIGER competitive criteria with fifty percent or greater non-federal matches becoming the norm. In 2017, the first year of the Trump administration saw awards favoring projects in rural areas (65% of funding), projects in smaller cities, those benefitting freight mobility, projects with strong non-federal match and economic development impacts.
Seneca has supported grant applicants in every annual competition. All applications we have supported have reached the “highly recommended” category that are forwarded to Secretary of Transportation for the final evaluation round. The Seneca team has been engaged for the following winning grants:
- TIGER II - Seneca wrote a successful $10.2 million TIGER grant application for the "Great Plains Freight Rail Service Preservation and Improvement Project," which funded relocation of an active rail yard from an urban area, construction of a rolling stock maintenance facility, and rail infrastructure rehabilitation across Kansas and Oklahoma to enable faster train speeds and heavier railcars.
- TIGER III - Seneca wrote a successful $6.6 million TIGER grant application for the “Solomon Rural Rail Upgrade Project.” The project will refurbish 84 miles of rail currently restricted by weight and speed limits allowing the KYLE railroad to load full 286,000 lb cars.
- TIGER IV - Seneca wrote a successful $7.1 million TIGER grant application for the “Siskiyou Summit Railroad Revitalization Project.” The funds were awarded to support the rehabilitation of a 296-mile stretch of the short line railroad operated by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, closed since 2008 due to a poor state-of-repair and lack of funds. TIGER funds will be used to improve tunnels, rails, ties, and bridges; reopen the rail line and upgrade the line to carry the current standard of 286,000 pound freight capacity.
- TIGER IV – Seneca’s sister company, Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, lobbied on behalf of a client to successfully win a $7.9 million TIGER grant for the “Northern Vermont Freight Rail Project” to upgrade 18.8 miles of railroad track between St. Albans, Vermont, and the Canadian border.
- TIGER V - Seneca wrote a successful $2.7 million TIGER grant application for the “Great Western Freight Improvement Project.” The project will establish a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) defined Quiet Zone through two main residential areas in the Town of Windsor, Colorado, including constructing and adding safety measures at ten public grade crossings
- TIGER V – Seneca wrote a successful $8.2 million TIGER grant application for the “White River Freight Railroad Bridge Replacement Project.” TIGER funds will be used to replace a 110-year old obsolete steel bridge in Greene County, Indiana, that connects regional freight corridors.
- TIGER VI – Seneca wrote a successful $12.5 million TIGER grant application for the “Southwest Chief Route Improvement Project.” TIGER funds will be used to replace ties and rail between Hutchinson, KS and Las Animas, CO.
- TIGER IX - Seneca wrote successful applications for grants awarded to short line railroad projects in Arkansas and Oklahoma and for further investment in the Amtrak Southwest Chief route.
If you are considering an application for a future competitive grant opportunity such as BUILD, advance planning and getting an early start is key to your chances for success.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Interested parties may wish to start by reviewing the extensive documentation provided by the Office of the Secretary on the grant program here. Potential grant applicants should also review the NEPA documentation at the different modal administrations, such as the Categorical Exclusion information from FRA or FHWA, to understand environmental permitting requirements. For more information on how Seneca can support your efforts to develop a project and secure federal financing, please contact us.