The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed $856 million in 2019 for a grant program aimed at freight-specific projects.
The Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program, created in 2015, is making competitive grants available for 10 "large projects" (between $36 and $125 million) and 10 "small" projects (between $5 and $13 million).
The fiscal 2019 grant total compares with $1.54 billion in INFRA grants proposed in 2018. However, last year's amount included grant money originally slated for the 2017 budget.
"This significant federal investment will improve major highways, bridges, ports and railroads around the country to better connect our communities, and to enhance safety and economic growth," said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao in announcing the grants on July 25.
INFRA grants tend to focus on merit-based highway projects for freight, unlike the department's complementary "BUILD" grant program, which has broader multimodal eligibility.
The two biggest project in the 2019 proposal include $125 million to the Alabama Department of Transportation to build a new six-lane bridge on Interstate 10 across the Mobile River channel, and another $125 million to the state of Maryland to raise the vertical clearance of the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, owned by railroad CSX (NYSE: CSX), for double-stack trains. Money for the project was made public earlier this week.
"We're especially pleased to see money going to the Howard Street Tunnel project," Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors, told FreightWaves. "This will allow for increased freight capacity at a chokepoint that diminished the volume that could move in that critical north-south corridor. This should clear that up and allow for more throughput – it's a project that has been searching for money for a long time."
Other large projects include $90 million to add capacity on a rural, mountainous stretch of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix; $81.2 million to complete two critical upgrades along I-70 in Missouri; $60.4 million to make a series of improvements to roadways on the north side of Bend, Oregon; and $60.36 million to rebuild the Providence Interstate 95 Northbound Viaduct in Rhode Island.
Small projects include $13.01 million for a bridge replacement project over the Missouri River in Pierre, South Dakota; $10.52 million to rehabilitate a 91.3-mile short-line railroad corridor between McGehee, Arkansas and Tallulah, Louisiana; and $8 million to rehabilitate and create new capacity at the Port of Miami's Seaboard Marine Terminal.
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) pointed out that grants for the three port-related projects totaled $142 million, or 15 percent of the awards.
"While many maritime projects are complex and need multimodal funding tools to build them, there are plenty of highway corridor and first/last mile projects in need of federal funding," commented AAPA President Kurt Nagle. "Ports are national infrastructure resources, serving both metropolitan and rural populations. Port-related projects, when funded, truly embody the term ‘nationally significant.'"
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