U.S. Department of Transportation Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) Program
The Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant funding program exists to provide federal funding support to nationally or regionally significant highway and freight projects. In reviewing grant applications, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) prioritizes projects that support economic vitality, promote or deploy innovation, allow federal funding to be leveraged in attracting private investment, and support accountability. For the first time, however, in 2021 USDOT also began prioritizing projects that promote racial equity, and those that address climate change and environmental justice.
To promote climate change and environmental justice through this program, USDOT plans to select projects that contemplate climate change and environmental justice in their design and specifically address those issues in their implementation. The Fiscal Year 2021-2022 funding announcement added specific criteria for evaluating whether projects address these issues, including whether the project is related to a climate action plan and whether its components promote energy efficiency, reduce emissions, promote electrification or ZEVs, recycle or redevelop infrastructure, and increase resiliency.
USDOT also plans to select projects that address racial inequality and barriers to opportunity (including automobile dependence as a barrier to opportunity). Promoting these projects reflects the mandate of Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” (issued January 20, 2021), which establishes a national policy of affirmatively advancing racial equity across all sectors of government in order to address systemic inequalities. To that end, the EO directs Federal Agencies to assess their policies and practices to ensure they do not contribute to systemic inequalities. USDOT will also factor whether the project takes place in a federally designated area for community improvement like some opportunity zones,1 Promise Zones,2 Choice Neighborhoods,3 and Empowerment Zones.4
The February 2021 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFO) announced the availability of $889 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Applications were accepted from February 17, 2021 through March 19, 2021. The grant program will serve both large and small projects, granting at least $5 million to a small project and at least $25 million to a large project. Of the $889 million available under this NOFO, 25% is reserved for projects in rural areas, and 10% is reserved for small projects. The 2021 NOFO also announced a new program called “Infra Extra” that identifies and selects competitive applicants who were not selected for an INFRA grant. Those applicants will be authorized to apply for a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, which can equal up to 49% of the project’s cost.
- Funding program
1. Opportunity zones are IRS-designated economically distressed communities in which certain investments can get preferential tax treatment.
2. Promise zones are 22 highly-impoverished communities selected by HUD for federal economic development support through a competitive selection process.
3. HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program provides grant funding for designated communities for revitalization and other community development projects.
4. Empowerment Zones are federally-designated high-poverty areas in which business can receive tax incentives for certain actions, including hiring employees who live in the EZ.