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September 9, 2020 1:00 PM, EDT

FHWA Announces Availability of Tribal Projects Grants

Tribal Projects GrantA construction truck leaves the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal lands in Massachusetts. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

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The Federal Highway Administration announced the availability of $70 million through the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects grant program Sept. 8.

The purpose of the program is to assist with efforts to construct and repair roads and bridges serving tribal and federally managed lands. This round of funding marks the second series of grants awarded under the program.

“By enhancing key rural routes, this program is one tool of many that will help to restore the economic vitality of rural America,” said Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason.

The Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program was established by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 as a way to fund construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation projects that provide access to or are located on federal or tribal lands.

John Barrasso

Nason

Large-scale projects with estimated construction costs of $50 million or more are given priority consideration in the selection process, but the program also accepts projects with estimated construction costs of at least $25 million. Under this program, the federal share of a project can be up to 90% and can be used to improve the condition of a critical transportation facility.

The first Notice of Funding Opportunity for this program, issued in 2018, garnered 39 applications requesting a total of about $2 billion in construction costs. During this round of funding, some $321.4 million was ultimately awarded to support six projects.

“In a time of limited budgets, these grants are a critical resource for tribal governments and federal land management agencies needing to build or repair highways and bridges,” Nason said.

FHWA will be accepting applications for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program through Nov. 2.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has placed an emphasis on the needs of rural and tribal communities in recent programs. Rural roads make up 70% of America’s road miles, according to DOT.

In October 2019, the agency created the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success program. Known as ROUTES, the program is meant to help connectivity in rural communities. In July, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao unveiled a toolkit that provides information and resources to help rural applicants understand and navigate DOT’s discretionary grant funding opportunities.

Additionally, the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant program directs a certain amount of funds toward rural projects. In the latest round of INFRA grants, announced June 18, 53% of the funding was devoted to projects in rural areas.

In the latest round of Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development discretionary grants, issued in November 2019, half of the $900 million in funding was awarded to projects in rural areas.

In terms of efforts to serve Indian populations, DOT issued a final rule to create the Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program in June. The program provides a framework for federal government offices and Indian tribes to work together to improve transportation infrastructure project delivery in tribal lands. Its purpose is to afford tribes participating in the program greater authority over their use of DOT funds.

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