Trump Admin. Selects $1.5B in Highway/Freight Funding Grants

June 5, 2018

Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent Congress a proposed list of 26 projects totaling $1.535 billion under the so-called INFRA grant program (called the FASTLANE grant program under the Obama Administration because its statutory acronym, NHSFP, is not easily pronounceable). The official list is posted under a formal announcement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s website.

Under the statute establishing the grant program (23 U.S.C. §117), USDOT’s proposed list of projects is not final – before the Department can start formally allocating funding and signing grant agreements, Congress has 60 days from today to enact a joint resolution rejecting any or all of the projects on the list. Presumably, the President would veto any such resolution disapproving his Secretary of Transportation’s choices, making this a two-thirds veto override question (this President sometimes works differently than one would expect as to what he will or won’t sign, but see the next paragraph for why this program may be close to his heart).

The $1.535 billion for these grants combines two years worth of net contract authority provided by the FAST Act, less an amount given out last year for small projects from the FY 2017 funding, plus $100,000 from President Trump’s donation of his fourth-quarter 2017 Presidential salary to the program.

The Trump salary money was made fungible with the rest of the money, meaning that 0.0065 percent of each grant award can be attributed to the President’s gift ($100,000 divided by $1,535,320,000).

The statute provides that 10 percent of each year’s funding – no more, no less – must go towards “small” projects with an overall cost of no more than $100 million (or less, if the project cost exceeds 30 percent of a state’s annual highway formula funding apportionment). The remaining 90 percent must go to “large” projects that exceed $100 million in total project size or 30 percent of the states’ annual formula funding. There are different minimum grant award sizes for large and small projects – $25 million for large projects, and $5 million for small projects.

Also, no less than 25 percent of funding must go to projects in rural areas (with “rural” being defined as “outside an urbanized area with a population of over 200,000”). In its other grant announcements so far, the Trump Administration has vastly exceeded statutory minimums for rural areas. In today’s announcement (FY 2017 large projects and FY 2018 large and small projects), rural projects get 44 percent of the money ($673 million). If one adds the FY 2017 small projects last year to the total to make it a complete comparison, the rural percentage rises to 46 percent. But this is not nearly as high a rural percentage as the FY 2017 TIGER grants selected by USDOT earlier this year, where the rural percentage hit 64 percent.

The FAST Act also set a five-year aggregate limitation on the total amount of all FASTLANE/INFRA awards that can go towards intermodal, rail freight, and private facility grants (since the money for the program all comes from the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund, i.e. highway user taxes, there is a sensitivity about letting too much of the money go to projects that are primarily non-highway). The grants announced this week use $74.6 million of that $500 million limitation. When combined with prior announcements, $300 of the $500 million limitation has now been used.

INFRA Grants – the $500 Million Five-Year Cap on Intermodal, Rail Freight, and Private Facility Grants in 23 U.S.C. §117(d)(2)(A)
FY 2016 $173,445,075
FY 2017 1st Tranche $52,255,615
FY 2017-2018 Remainder $74,647,471
Total Used to Date $300,348,161
Remainder for FY19-20 $199,651,840

Compared with the FY 2016 list from the Obama Administration, one has to add in or separate out the small projects from the large for an apples-to-apples comparison, depending on what one is comparing.

  • The Trump grant awards are bigger – for large projects, the mean (average) grant size was identical to the median grant size for FY 2017-2018 grants at $65 million whereas in FY 2016 the average was $62.1 million and the median was $49.3 million.
  • At the top of the list, for large projects, there were four grant awards over $100 million apiece this year ($184.1 million for SR 400 express lanes in Atlanta, $160.0 million for upgrading I-94 in Wisconsin from Milwaukee to the Illinois line, $147.3 in rural North Carolina for an interchange upgrade between I-94 and U.S. 70, and $132.0 million to Chicago for the 75th Street Corridor project. In 2016 there was only one grant over $100 million.
  • In terms of electoral politics, the states carried by President Trump in 2016 got 78 percent of the grant money announced today (if one counts one-fourth of the Maine project, since Trump got one of Maine’s four electoral votes). More specifically, the states that Hillary Clinton had counted on but Trump took instead did especially well. Michigan – $97.9 million. Pennsylvania – $60.6 million. Wisconsin – $160 million. Macomb County, Michigan – ground zero of the “Reagan Democrats” who gave the Gipper his landslide in 1980 and the swing voters who elected Trump in 2016 – got the entire INFRA grant for that state.
  • On the other end, the only states that Clinton carried in 2016 that got any INFRA money this week are California, Colorado and Illinois (with that Maine project split, as noted above).
  • It also helps to have a first name like “chairman.” Transportation-related committee chairmen who got projects in their state or district include Senate Commerce chairman John Thune (R-SD) ($21.0 million), Senate Environment and Public Works chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) ($14.0 million), Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee chairman Deb Fischer (R-NE) ($18.3 million), Senate Appropriations chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) ($6.0 million for a bridge next to the Crimson Tide practice facility on campus), and Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) ($25.0 million). In the House, Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) got $7.0 million. And while the projects might not be in his district, money went to Interstate roads right adjacent to the district of House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). And the President’s most highly-placed House ally, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), hails from Bakersfield, which got another $50 million for the Centennial Corridor (a road which already received an absurd amount of money from McCarthy’s predecessor Bill Thomas in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU earmark bonanza).
  • The federal INFRA grant share of total project cost varies widely – from a high of 60 percent (the Idaho project) to a low of 8 percent (Fort Worth, Texas). But the average INFRA share of the projects announced today was 20 percent ($1.535 billion divided by $7.656 billion), which has to be some kind of message from the Trump Administration, which proposed new programs carrying a maximum 20 percent federal cost share in its infrastructure initiative (much to the consternation of Congress).

The table below shows all of the tentative award notifications sent to Capitol Hill today, with links to a description of each project (usually the INFRA grant application itself, but sometimes a state DOT webpage or a news article).

FY 2017-2018 INFRA Grants under 23 U.S.C. §117 Tentatively Selected by USDOT (Subject to Congressional Review) – June 5, 2018

State Location Project Name L/S? U/R? Grant Award Project Cost
AL Tuscaloosa 2nd Avenue Connectivity Corridor Project Small Rural $6,025,657 $16,737,936
CA Bakersfield Centennial Corridor State Route 58/99 Freight Improvement Project Large Urban $50,000,000 $386,637,000
CA Los Angeles Interstate 5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program (I-5 Component) Large Urban $47,000,000 $500,347,000
CO El Paso County I-25 South Gap Project Large Rural $65,000,000 $350,000,000
CO Clear Creek County I-70 Westbound Peak Period Shoulder Lane Large Rural $25,000,000 $96,600,000
FL Miami PortMiami Truck Gate Innovation Small Urban $7,000,000 $15,000,000
GA Atlanta/Fulton County SR 400 Express Lanes Large Urban $184,124,447 $1,623,124,447
IA Johnson County Accelerating Regional Mobility: I-80/I-380 Systems Interchange Large Rural $50,000,000 $416,506,706
ID Nampa Interstate 84 Safety, Mobility, and Economic Opportunity Expansion – Karcher Interchange to Franklin Boulevard Large Rural $90,240,000 $150,400,000
IL Chicago 75th Street Corridor Improvements and Argo Connections (P3, GS19, B9) Large Urban $132,034,680 $413,466,297
KY Boone County Boone County I-71/I-75 Interchanges Large Urban $67,445,000 $150,890,000
LA Plaquemines Parish LA 23 Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel Replacement Large Urban $45,000,000 $121,918,866
ME Brewer to Eddington I-395/Route 9 Connector Large Rural $25,000,000 $78,944,931
MI Macomb County Mound Road Industrial Corridor Technology and Innovation Project Large Urban $97,864,465 $216,860,000
NC Smithfield to Selma I-95/U.S. 70 Innovative Technology and Rural Mobility Corridor Improvements Large Rural $147,264,000 $879,755,000
NE Alliance to SD Line Heartland Expressway Junction L62A / US 385 to Alliance Small Rural $18,263,743 $34,000,000
OH Jefferson & Belmont Cos. Ohio River Rail Improvement Project Small Rural $16,250,600 $31,882,843
OK Tulsa County I-44 Corridor Improvements Large Urban $45,000,000 $107,744,810
PA Bellefonte (Centre County) I-80 and I-99 Interstate Connection Large Rural $35,110,410 $183,395,232
PA Philadelphia Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Capacity & Warehouse Relocation Project Large Urban $25,500,000 $110,500,000
SD Sioux Falls Veterans Parkway Small Rural $21,000,000 $52,776,625
TN Memphis US-78 /SR 4/Lamar Avenue Corridor Improvements Large Urban $71,196,998 $258,004,207
TX Fort Worth I-35 North Tarrant Express “Accelerated Elements” Project Large Urban $65,000,000 $827,900,000
UT Salt Lake City Northwest Quadrant Freight Mobility Project (5600 West and SLGW Rail Interchange Components) Large Urban $25,000,000 $111,675,487
WI Milwaukee to IL Line 94 North-South Freeway Project Large Rural $160,000,000 $492,500,000
WY Rock Springs Rock Springs I-80 Interchange and Interchange Road Small Rural $14,000,000 $28,446,455
TOTAL $1,535,320,000 $7,656,013,842


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