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March 24, 2022 10:58 AM, EDT

Buttigieg Announces $2.9 billion in New Infrastructure Grants

Arlington Memorial BridgeThe Arlington Memorial Bridge underwent a $227 million rehabilitation in one of the National Park Services’ largest-ever infrastructure projects. (Noel Fletcher/Transport Topics)

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The White House transportation chief made good on promises to simplify access to infrastructure grants by announcing a $2.9 billion funding opportunity that combines three programs.

The new Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant was announced by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who convened a press conference March 23 with Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser and infrastructure coordinator, next to the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington.

Buttigieg addressed reporters after an earlier joint announcement with President Joe Biden on the funding now available for major infrastructure projects through a combined notice of funding opportunity under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

Pete Buttigieg (left), Mitch Landrieu

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (left) and infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu. (Noel Fletcher/Transport Topics)

“We’ve done something new this time, which is one combined application for three marquee intermodal programs,” Buttigieg said.

He explained that the Multimodal Grant will help smaller communities navigate the application process in a more straightforward way while giving the Department of Transportation “more of a holistic view of the needs across the many programs.”

It allows communities to apply for all or some of the three programs:

• A new National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA) program to receive $1 billion this year for major projects too large or complex for traditional funding programs

• An existing Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) competitive program slated to receive a 50% increase in this year’s funding to total $8 billion over five years due to the BIL

• A new Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program (RURAL) that will award up to $300 million in grants to improve and expand rural surface transportation infrastructure to increase connectivity, improve safety and enhance reliable movements of people and freight

“In recent weeks, we’ve launched the effort to fix an estimated 15,000 bridges across the country. We’ve put forward the largest-ever investment in our port infrastructure development program to move goods more quickly and smoothly,” Buttigieg said. “And now we’re taking another major step that is going to improve everyday life in America.”

The goal of RURAL is to fund often-overlooked projects for highways, bridges and “to increase access to markets, improve freight movement and make travel safer,” he added.

Buttigieg described the MEGA program as meant to pay for projects so large or complex they fail to qualify for traditional transportation funding sources.

“This is where we can build our cathedrals of transportation infrastructure in this country — whether it’s existing infrastructure that needs major modernization or new projects that will make a difference for a whole region,” he said.

According to DOT, MEGA funds will be awarded to significant multijurisdictional or regional projects that may involve multiple modes of transportation (highways, bridges, freight, ports, passenger rail and public transportation).

“These could be bridges or tunnels connecting two states, new rail and transit lines that improve equity and reduce emissions, and freight hubs integrating ship, train and truck traffic while improving environmental justice,” DOT stated. It will award 50% of funding to projects greater than $500 million in cost and 50% for those costing over $100 million but less than $500 million.

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Buttigieg motioned to Memorial Bridge as an example of aging 88-year-old infrastructure that was rehabilitated using 2016 INFRA funds. It provides a critical transportation connection for 68,000 vehicles per weekday. In December 2020, the $227 million bridge project, which involved rehabilitating six traffic lanes and both sidewalks, was completed in one of the National Park Services’ largest-ever infrastructure projects. Renovations extended the bridge’s service life for 75 years.

“With today’s funding announcement, we’re able to bring that many more projects to that many more places where it’s needed,” Buttigieg said.

Landrieu said he has been working with governors and mayors. At the same time, he is trying to build a team across the federal government to deploy the $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funds. Calling the BIL a “once-in-a-generation opportunity,” he acknowledged challenges because “this country doesn’t have the muscle memory to actually do this.”