DOT Gives $225M in Grants for One-Off Discretionary Bridge Program

The U.S. Department of Transportation on August 29 announced that 20 highway bridge replacement projects would split $225 million in grant money provided by the 2018 omnibus appropriations act as part of a one-time-only competitive bridge grant program for rural states.

“This $225 million in federal funding will enable 18 states to make vital upgrades to select bridges in rural areas,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The fiscal year 2018 law appropriated $2.5 billion from general revenues for highway programs on top of the $45 billion being made available for the Highway Trust Fund for highways, and the law set aside $225 million of that $2.5 billion “for a competitive highway bridge program for States that have a population density of less than 100 individuals per square mile.” The law also specified that 2010 Census data was to be used, which left 25 states eligible for funding (the density list, ranked, from the 2010 Census can be viewed here – Texas was the densest state in 2010 that was below the 100 ppsm boundary, at 96.3. Washington State just missed out, at a density of 101.2 ppsm. (The U.S. average density ppsm in 2010 was 87.2, but that includes Alaska – if you exclude Alaska, the U.S. population density (including the District of Columbia but excluding Puerto Rico and territories) would rise to 104.0. ppsm.)

Of the 25 eligible states who were invited to apply, 18 received grants. (There were 20 grants – Maine and Mississippi got two grants each.) But all of the grants were to replace multiple structures – the 20 grants, collectively, will replace 276 bridges or culverts, at an average cost of $815 thousand per structure, meaning that we are mostly talking small bridge replacement. There are some larger exceptions – bridges on Interstate 515 in Las Vegas, and on US-191 in Apache territory in Arizona, are averaging about $5 million apiece, and bridges on the Seward Highway in Alaska in in Douglas County, Oregon are averaging a bit more than that.

More information on specific grants can be found on the FHWA website here, and a table listing the grants is reprinted below. (Ed. Note: How can FHWA give a grant to replace a bridge in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi and leave us in suspense by not telling us whether or not it is the bridge from which Billie Joe McAllister jumped? Leaving us in suspense here…)

State Structures Being Replaced Grant Size Avg. Cost Per Structure
AL 6 bridges in Opelika $10,855,000 $1,809,167
AK 2 bridges on Anchorage-Seward Highway $11,567,000 $5,783,500
AZ 2 bridges in Apache County $10,365,000 $5,182,500
AR 14 bridges near Osceola $16,161,000 $1,154,357
CO 14 culverts in SW Colorado $12,475,000 $891,071
ID 8 bridges in southern Idaho $6,289,000 $786,125
IA Up to 77 bridges statewide $33,442,000 $434,312
KS 5 bridges in SW Kansas $3,913,000 $782,600
ME 3 bridges in Franklin County $6,118,000 $2,039,333
ME 4 bridges in Cumberland County $18,938,000 $4,734,500
MN 21 bridges in Carlton & St,. Louis Counties $10,252,000 $488,190
MS 8 bridges in S Mississippi $6,666,000 $833,250
MS 4 bridges in NW Mississippi $10,139,000 $2,534,750
MO 41 bridges in N Missouri $20,794,000 $507,171
NE 7 bridges near Dixon County $8,484,000 $1,212,000
NV 2 bridges on I-515, Las Vegas $9,821,000 $4,910,500
ND 18 bridges statewide $6,511,000 $361,722
OK 34 bridges in Grant County $3,468,000 $102,000
OR 2 bridges in Douglas County $16,495,000 $8,247,500
SD 4 bridges in W South Dakota $2,247,000 $561,750
TOTAL $225,000,000 $815,217

The 2019 omnibus appropriations act set aside $475 million of its $3.2 billion general fund highway appropriations for a different kind of bridge program. The money was to be distributed to states “for which the percentage of total deck area of bridges classified as in poor condition in such State is at least 7.5 percent…by the proportion that the percentage of total deck area of bridges classified as in poor condition in each qualifying State bears to the sum of the percentages of total deck area of bridges classified as in poor condition in all qualifying States.” 19 states qualified, including North Carolina, Maine, and Rhode Island, which are three of the “four corners” of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittees (home states of chairmen or ranking minority members).

Because the 2019 money was formula and not discretionary, that money actually went out before the 2018 money, on March 15, as part of that apportionment. (See here for that apportionment notice, and scroll to the bottom and click on Table 1 to see precisely how much bridge money each state received.) The House-passed version of the FY 2020 DOT appropriations act does not contain any extra bridge money from general revenues, but section 1119 of the surface transportation authorization bill reported from the Senate Public Works Committee would authorize a new competitive bridge program partly funded from general revenues and partly supported by the Highway Trust Fund.

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