The U.S. Department of Transportation began soliciting applications for $800 million in freight project grants for fiscal 2016 that were authorized in the FAST Act, setting in motion the process for state departments of transportation and other agencies to tap this new funding program.
"Our nation needs a strong multimodal freight system to both compete in the global economy and meet the needs of consumers and industry," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in announcing the grant applications Feb. 26. "We now have an opportunity to fund high-impact projects that address key challenges affecting the movement of people and freight."
Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez had told state agency CEOs at the AASHTO Washington Briefing on Feb. 24 to soon expect that formal notice of funding opportunity, which would activate the initial round of what will be five years of freight-related competitive grants.
The department also issued a three-page set of fact sheets that sum up how the program works.
While state project planners knew the grant pool would be available under the new surface transportation law, they could not actively seek the funds until the notice was issued that opened applications and spelled out the details.
That notice also comes days after the department opened applications for this year's separate TIGER infrastructure grants program, which provides a $500 million grant pool in 2016 and can help fund a wider array of projects.
The FAST Act called the new program "Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects." The department is calling them FASTLANE grants, an acronym that stands for "Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies."
It is the first program in the USDOT's 50-year history that establishes broad, multiyear eligibilities for freight infrastructure projects including intermodal.
The USDOT announcement said FASTLANE applications will be due by 8 p.m. eastern time on April 14, and more information will be included in a series of webinars on the program. The first of those webinars is scheduled for March 3. https://www.transportation.gov/fastlanegrants/webinar-series
Those eligible to seek the grants include state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, port authorities, tribal governments and other agencies. Eligible project categories, the notice said, include various freight-related types of work plus projects that add capacity and mobility to the interstate highway system in a national scenic area.
Of the $800 million in available 2016 funding, 25 percent or $190 million is reserved for rural projects and 10 percent or $76 million for smaller ones. Over the five years of the FAST Act, the program will provide $4.5 billion in project grants.
The USDOT said the FASTLANE grants will fund large projects equal to the lesser of $100 million or a certain specified statutory percentage of the project state's fiscal 2015 apportionment that are eligible for a minimum award of $25 million. Smaller projects below the minimum large-project size are eligible for awards of at least $5 million.