Homework Time

Jan. 1, 2023
Your assignment is to read the IIJA funding guidebook

By David Cullen

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a colossal chunk of legislation. And the law is complicated.

Are you up for the challenge of learning this law, and then gaining the benefits it offers?

This bipartisan law serves as a textbook example of American federalism, pulling all levels of government into the fold.

This is what happens when a once in a generation infrastructure plan—which should have been passed into law decades ago—delivers massive federal funding to 50 states, as well as local jurisdictions within those states, to use accordingly.

This investment is desperately needed. And, because of the bipartisan law’s necessary size and the fact that America’s infrastructure was ignored by our politicians for so long, the rollout of the IIJA was always going to take time.

One cannot expect that our roads and bridges will be repaired or replaced at breakneck speeds.

Since funding will be injected slowly, project planners must do their homework to apply for the programs and grants aimed at building and improving roads and bridges.

To make that task less daunting, the federal government has provided tools to help smooth the way for applicants. The White House has released an IIJA funding guidebook for state and local government entities to consult.

And yes, the guidebook is long. However, the guide’s executive summary rightly points out that advancing infrastructure is “a shared endeavor no one can do alone and investing federal infrastructure dollars will require significant coordination between the federal government, states, tribal governments, community stakeholders, local governments, and other key partners.”

This roadmap to the funding available under the law details how much funding is dedicated at the program level and advises government entities on which IIJA programs to apply for, who to contact for help, and how to prepare to deliver their projects.

There’s an accompanying data file available at Build.gov that quickly sorts programs funded under the law by fields such as agency, amount, eligible recipient, or program name.

The guidebook’s 13 chapters group programs by issue area. Each chapter contains a cover note explaining how to get ready to apply for and receive this subset of funding. The chapters identify additional resources that can be leveraged to prepare while the federal government preps to distribute IIJA funds from new and existing programs.

The guidebook’s appendix contains agency-level contact information and links to more information. Content on Build.gov will be updated as warranted to keep all concerned apprised of the latest deadlines and other details. The White House also encourages external stakeholders to use this information to develop local or regional-specific guides on available sources of funding, “so every community in America can identify, understand, and access investment opportunities that they need and deserve under the law.”

What’s more, earlier this year, the White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu sent a letter to governors recommending a series of preparatory actions, including appointing infrastructure coordinators to manage the flow of funds to their states.

The guidebook dedicates almost five pages alone to discussing roads, bridges, and major projects, which includes a funding overview:

  • $40 billion for bridges: This includes $12.5 billion for the Bridge Investment Program, which is a competitive program to replace, rehabilitate, preserve, or protect some of the nation’s most important and economically significant bridges. The rest of the funds fall under the Bridge Formula Program, which provides formula funding to states to replace, rehabilitate, preserve, protect, and construct bridges on public roads. This program includes $4 billion that is set aside for off-system bridges that are often owned and maintained by cities, counties, and towns and are typically located on roads normally ineligible for federal highway funding.
  • $8 billion for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Program, which supports freight and highway projects of regional and national significance.
  • $7.5 billion for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants. This competitive grant program (formerly BUILD and TIGER) provides funding for road, rail, transit, and other surface transportation of local and/or regional significance. Selection criteria include safety, sustainability, equity, economic competitiveness, mobility, and community connectivity.
  • $5 billion for the National Infrastructure Project Assistance. This program, AKA the “Megaprojects program” or MEGA, provides grants on a competitive basis to support multi-jurisdictional or regional projects of significance that may also cut across multiple modes of transportation.

The road ahead will not be smooth as silk, but this law will improve America’s infrastructure. And, those who put in the time now to learn the law will reap massive positive results for their community and their business.

In a recent Roads & Bridges webinar, David Lieberman, director, U.S. Government Relations for Bentley Systems, and with whom I share this column, said: “One of the things that I've heard from states is that you can't really boil the ocean. By that, I mean, it's really important to be selective and almost myopic in how you go about applying for some of these grants.

“If you are a state and you have a common theme or you see that there are dozens or even hundreds of bridges and disrepair, there's money for you, if you're a state or locality that really thinks their water system is in need, there's money for you,” he continued. “It behooves states and localities to stay up to date and really be selective in what money they're going after and then how they're going to apply for it.” R&B

David Cullen has been covering transportation issues since 1981. He has received several Jesse H. Neal Awards for Outstanding Journalism and the ASPBE Stephen Barr Award for Individual Feature Writing.

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