The U.S. Department of Transportation has published an updated FY 2021 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program.
It follows a pause on Jan. 21.
Railway Age reported earlier this month that the USDOT was revising NOFOs for its INFRA and BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grant programs. The USDOT said on both program websites that any FY 2021 “NOFOs issued before January 21, 2021, including any previously published on this website or at Grants.gov, are withdrawn, and will not be used.”
For INFRA, USDOT noted, “An updated FY 2021 INFRA NOFO will be published soon.” The updated NOFO was released Feb. 17.
Approximately $889 million in total funding is now available for large projects (each grant must be at least $25 million) and small projects (each grant must be at least $5 million). Applications will be accepted through March 19.
The BUILD NOFO has not yet been updated. The BUILD site still says: “The Department will publish the final FY 2021 BUILD NOFO at Grants.gov and https://www.transportation.gov/buildgrants/build-nofo by the April 26, 2021 statutory deadline.”
What was the reason for the pause? Railway Age asked Commuter Rail Coalition Executive Director KellyAnne Gallagher for her take shortly after the NOFOs were paused. “It is not unusual for new Administrations to step back and review their discretionary grant programs,” she explained. “They put a hold on any funding programs for a chance to determine if the guidance aligns with their own priorities—in this case, likely adding some emphasis on climate impact, and perhaps other rebalancing of criteria. Also, there had been criticism by the DOT Inspector General and others of the previous Administration’s transparency when it came to project selection under these programs, and to pause the programs gives the new team a chance to review any of these issues.”
In the USDOT’s Feb. 17 announcement, it noted that the INFRA grants “will fund transportation projects of national and regional significance that are in line with the Biden Administration’s priorities including creating good-paying jobs, improving safety, applying transformative technology, and explicitly addressing climate change and racial equity.”
Racial equity will be considered, USDOT noted, “to the extent that project sponsors have completed equity-focused community outreach, and projects are designed to improve connections to underserved communities to reduce barriers to opportunity.” Additionally, the Department will consider “whether the project is located in a federally designated community development zone, including qualified Opportunity Zones, Empowerment Zones, Promise Zones, or Choice Neighborhoods.”
USDOT reported that it “is specifically focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested and is positioned to proceed rapidly to construction.”
Eligible INFRA project costs may include: reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of property (including land related to the project and improvements to the land), environmental mitigation, construction contingencies, equipment acquisition, and operational improvements directly related to system performance.
The updated FY 2021 INFRA NOFO also includes the “INFRA Extra” Program, which “will identify competitive INFRA applicants who do not receive an INFRA award and authorize them to seek a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA) loan up to 49% of their project cost.”