USDOT Announced Over $40 Billion in Discretionary Grants in 2023

2023 was the year that the unprecedented competitive grant funding provided by the bipartisan infrastructure law really kicked in at the U.S. Department of Transportation. By our count, the Secretary and the modal administrators announced over $40 billion in competitive grant selectees in 2023 using funds provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Our total, listed below, adds up to $39.9 billion but the actual number is at least a couple of billion higher than that. (Problem #1 is that the Federal Aviation Administration does not distinguish between IIJA funding and regular funding when making most Airport Improvement Program grants, so none of those are counted. And problem #2 is that the Federal Transit Administration does not announce when it is allocating IIJA money to projects in the Capital Investment Grant program, so that money isn’t shown either. And we didn’t show the IIJA money allocated directly to Amtrak. And there are some odds and ends, like FMCSA and NHTSA grants, where we also aren’t sure how to distinguish between IIJA money and regular money.)

You have to have watched these programs a long time to really understand how much this really is, comparatively speaking. After Congress banned itself from getting earmarked projects in 2010, they decided that if they couldn’t pick and choose projects any longer, that the Administration shouldn’t be able to, either, so the 2012 MAP-21 law got rid of most competitive highway and transit funding opportunities. Funds were distributed via formula to the maximum extent possible. RAISE grants, out of the general fund, along with a small competitive bus grant program, were almost the only competitive grant programs remaining (after CIG, which works on its own schedule).

Then the FAST Act reversed the trend by creating the INFRA program and several new railroad grant programs, Trump negotiated significantly higher appropriations cap levels allowing those grant programs to be funded, and then the IIJA took things to a whole new level.

To give that $40 billion figure further context, as recently as fiscal year 2016, total Federal Highway Administration formula funding to states only totaled $39.7 billion.

The danger here is that, legally speaking, a public announcement that DOT has selected a project to receive a competitive grant is only as enforceable as any other press release. And press releases can be withdrawn or rescinded, particularly when there is a change of party control. Until the press releases can be turned into signed and executed as legally binding project agreements, no money can change hands. A future Administration taking office in January 2025 might revisit some of these decisions and might slow-walk the rest of the programs where project agreements have not yet been executed.

Our list of the USDOT grant announcements for the year follows.

Date Mode Program Million $$
January 4 FHWA Large Bridge Program 2,088.2
January 26 FTA Ferry Service for Rural Communities 252.4
January 26 FTA Electric/Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot 97.6
January 26 FTA Passenger Ferry Grant Program 34.4
February 1 OST Safe Streets and Roads for All (1st round) 802.2
February 27 FAA Airport Terminal Program 967.4
February 28 OST Reconnecting Communities 185.2
March 21 OST SMART Grants 94.8
March 31 FAA Contract Tower Competitive Grants 20.0
April 5 PHMSA NatGas Pipeline Safety (NDGISM) Grants 195.5
April 13 FHWA Small/Medium-Size Bridge Program 295.7
May 5 FTA Rail Vehicle Replacement Program 703.1
May 25 FHWA ATTAIN grants 52.8
June 5 FRA Rail Crossing Elimination Grants 570.7
June 26 FTA Competitive Bus Grants 473.2
June 26 FTA Low-No Emission Competitive Bus Grants 1,216.6
June 28 OST RAISE Grants 1,470.0
August 16 FHWA Culvert Aquatic Organism Passage Grants 195.9
September 25 FRA CRISI 980.0
September 26 FAA Airfield Lighting 201.0
October 13 OST Regional Infrastructure Accelerators 24.2
October 27 OST Safe Streets and Roads for All (2nd round) 82.0
November 3 MARAD Port Infrastructure Development Program 441.0
November 6 FRA Fed.-State Partnership for IPR: NEC 16,434.1
November 30 FTA Ferry Grant Program 220.2
December 5 FHWA Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program 109.6
December 8 FRA Fed.-State Partnership for IPR: Off-NEC 8,186.0
December 8 FRA Corridor Identification and Development 34.5
December 12 FHWA Rural Surface Transportation Grants 645.3
December 13 OST Safe Streets and Roads for All (3rd round) 818.5
December 15 OST MEGA Grants 2,045.2
Total, USDOT Announcements of IIJA Grant Funding in 2023 39,937.2

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