One of the most encouraging stories of 2018 has been Congress’ bipartisan determination to address infrastructure needs. Once it became clear that infrastructure plans floated by President Trump were unacceptable to both sides for a number of reasons, both parties in Congress worked together to come up with increased funding for infrastructure.
Besides increasing funding for the Corps of Engineers in a “minibus” bill, Congress also plumped up one of the most successful federal infrastructure programs, the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants program. Congress provided $1.5 billion, triple the previous year’s level—the highest level the program has received since 2009, when it was known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Senate committee on appropriations.
That more needs to be done was shown by the number of applications: 851 eligible applicants from all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia—more than twice as many as in 2017—requesting more than $10.9 billion in funding.
In announcing the grants, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said, “The BUILD Transportation Grants rebalance a 10-year, historical underinvestment in rural communities. Rural applications more than doubled from the previous year’s TIGER applications. Underinvestment in rural infrastructure has led to a decline in the routes that connect communities in rural America. In this round, in which 59 percent of the applications were for rural projects, 62 projects were awarded to rural grant applications.” Chao said that before Trump took office, only 21 percent of TIGER dollars went to rural projects. In this round, 62 percent of BUILD grants were located in rural areas or had a rural component.
Chao said that ports directly received $146 million. The WJ highlighted the grants to the ports of Muskogee, Okla.; Port Arthur, Texas; Morrow, Ore.; Port Fourchon, La.; Southeast Missouri Port; and Owensboro, Ky., in last week’s issue.
But the American Association of Port Authorities reckoned that “port-related” projects got a total of $229.23 million, or about 15.28 percent of the total of $1.5 billion awarded. That’s because many rail and road improvement projects were closely connected with or adjacent to ports.
Infrastructure funding will already go down as a signature accomplishment of the 115th Congress. Regarding the doubling of demand for BUILD grants this year, Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the transportation and housing subcommittee, said “Clearly we can do more—we must do more.”
Let’s hope that both parties can keep their eye on the infrastructure ball during the upcoming year.