The U.S. Department of Transportation's point person on infrastructure told the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Board of Directors that the 2017 round of "Fastlane" grants will be split up, with some grant awards to be announced soon while some of the project applications will be re-solicited before additional grants are issued.
James Ray, USDOT special adviser on infrastructure, made the remarks May 25 at the AASHTO Spring Meeting in Portland, Maine, where he addressed the chief executives of state DOTs who comprise AASHTO's board.
His comments elaborate on those made in a May 17 appearance at a Senate hearing by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. When asked by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., when the 2017 Fastlane grants would be issued,
Chao said a first "tranche" would be released soon, "and then we will be taking a look at the others."
The USDOT under former Secretary Anthony Foxx had solicited applications last year for the $850 million in freight-related or significant corridor project awards for 2017, under a program the department calls Fastlane grants. They were authorized each year for 2016 through 2020 in the 2015 Fixing American's Surface Transportation Act, and are paid for out of the Highway Trust Fund.
Ray told the AASHTO board the USDOT would be both announcing awards based on current funding applications that were previously submitted this year and re-soliciting for some projects. Additional information on the grant programs will be coming in a few weeks, he said, adding that "it's imminent."
Ray also told the state DOT executives that President Trump's much-anticipated infrastructure plan is still under development, but "we are where we should be." He said a set of core principles for that plan "will permeate through the budget and the package and the discretionary grant programs."
According to Ray, that package, which is expected to leverage $200 million over 10 years into a $1 trillion overall investment, will concentrate on principles that value rural America, expand the partnerships between the federal government, states and the private sector, and streamline environmental programs to emphasize project results over process.
Ray said those concepts – particularly the emphasis on rural America and expanding partnerships – will be key elements of federal discretionary grant programs, including both the Fastlane grants and the separate $500 million in TIGER infrastructure grants that Congress has approved for 2017.
He also encouraged state DOTs, when considering potential grant applications, to focus on partnerships that will leverage additional public and private investment to help fund projects. "We are looking at leverage and we are looking at federal dollars to attract more dollars," Ray said.
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