DOT Revises Rules for Renamed RAISE Multimodal Grants

DOT Revises Rules for Renamed RAISE Multimodal Grants

April 15, 2021  | Jeff Davis

The multimodal surface transportation grant program first established in early 2009 and named TIGER by the Obama Administration, and later renamed BUILD by the Trump Administration, has been renamed again by the Biden Administration. The solicitation for applications for $1 billion in RAISE grant funding (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) was released by the U.S. Department of Transportation on April 13.

“In communities across the country, there is tremendous need for transportation projects that create high-quality jobs, improve safety, protect our environment, and generate equitable economic opportunity for all Americans,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “With RAISE grants, we are making those needed investments in our communities’ future.”

Applications will be due on grants.gov by July 12.

Whether you call it TIGER or BUILD or RAISE, the legal name of the program has always been National Infrastructure Investments. The program has never been authorized in permanent statute – rather, it is created anew by the Appropriations Committees in each year’s USDOT appropriations bill. And, for the last several years, those appropriators had been irritated enough with the way that the Trump Administration had been handling the annual program that they have included the following language in the last several appropriations acts: “Provided further; That the Secretary shall consider and award projects based solely on the selection criteria from the fiscal year 2017 Notice of Funding Opportunity.”

The Trump Administration had issued its on NOFO for the fiscal 2021 money just before they left office on January 20, but the Biden Administration promptly pulled that one back and wrote a new NOFO that was released this week. But both NOFOs were tied to the FY 2017 Obama Administration NOFO, which is why the selection criterion in both iterations of the FY 2021 NOFO are the same, just rearranged:

Trump NOFO Biden NOFO
Primary Selection Criteria
(a) Safety (a) Safety
(b) State of Good Repair (b) Environmental Sustainability
(c) Economic Competitiveness (c) Quality of Life
(d) Environmental Sustainability (d) Economic Competitiveness
(e) Quality of Life (e) State of Good Repair
Secondary Selection Criteria
(a) Innovation (a) Partnership
(b) Partnership (b) Innovation

However, even though the selection criteria have the same names in both iterations of the NOFO, the details have changed. Sometimes the differences are slight, as in the following two selection criteria:

Trump NOFO Biden NOFO
Safety. “DOT will consider the projected impacts on the number, rate, and consequences of crashes, fatalities and injuries among transportation users; the project’s contribution to the elimination of highway/rail grade crossings; or the project’s contribution to preventing unintended releases of hazardous materials.” Safety. “DOT will consider the project’s estimated impacts on the number, rate, and consequences of crashes, fatalities and injuries among transportation users; the degree to which the project addresses vulnerable roadway users, the degree to which the project addresses inequities in crash victims, the extent to which the project improves safety at highway/rail grade crossings; the project’s incorporation of roadway design and technology that is proven to improve safety; or the project’s contribution to preventing unintended releases of hazardous materials.”
Economic Competitiveness. DOT will assess whether the project will (1) decrease transportation costs and improve access, through reliable and timely access to employment centers and job opportunities; (2) improve long-term efficiency, reliability or costs in the movement of workers or goods; (3) increase the economic productivity of land, capital, or labor; (4) result in long-term job creation and other economic opportunities; or (5) help the United States compete in a global economy by facilitating efficient and reliable freight movement. This criterion is consistent with DOT’s strategic objective to promote investments that bring lasting economic benefit to the Nation.

Projects that address congestion in major urban areas, particularly those that do so through congestion pricing or the deployment of advanced technology, projects that bridge gaps in service in rural areas, and projects that attract private economic development, all support local or regional economic competitiveness.”

Economic Competitiveness. “DOT will assess whether the project will (1) decrease transportation costs and improve access, through reliable and timely access to employment centers and job opportunities; (2) improve long-term efficiency, reliability or costs in the movement of workers or goods; (3) offer significant regional and national improvements in economic strength by increasing the economic productivity of land, capital, or labor, and improving the economic strength of regions and cities; (4) result in long-term job creation by supporting good-paying jobs directly related to the project with the choice of a union, and supporting American industry through compliance with domestic preference laws, the use of project labor agreements, local hiring provisions, or other targeted preferential hiring requirements; or (5) help the United States compete in a global economy by encouraging the location of important industries and future innovations and technology in the U.S., and facilitating efficient and reliable freight movement. This criterion is consistent with DOT’s strategic objective to promote investments that bring lasting economic benefit to the Nation.

“Projects that bridge gaps in service in rural areas and projects that attract private economic development both support local or regional economic competitiveness.”

Sometimes the differences go much deeper. For example, here is the detail text of the “Environmental Sustainability” selection criterion from the Trump NOFO:

DOT will consider the extent to which the project improves energy efficiency, reduces dependence on oil, reduces congestion-related emissions, improves water quality, avoids and mitigates environmental impacts and otherwise benefits the environment, including through alternative right of way uses demonstrating innovative ways to improve or streamline environmental reviews while maintaining the same outcomes. DOT will assess the project’s ability to: (i) reduce energy use and air or water pollution through congestion mitigation strategies; (ii) avoid adverse environmental impacts to air or water quality, wetlands, and endangered species; or (iii) provide environmental benefits, such as brownfield redevelopment, ground water recharge in areas of water scarcity, wetlands creation or improved habitat connectivity, and stormwater mitigation.

And here is the version from the new Biden NOFO:

DOT will consider the extent to which the project incorporates considerations of climate change and environmental justice in the planning stage and in project delivery, such as through incorporation of specific design elements that address climate change impacts. DOT will evaluate the degree to which the project is expected to reduce emissions, promote energy efficiency, support fiscally responsible land use and transportation efficient design, incorporates electrification or zero emission vehicle infrastructure, increases resiliency, reduces pollution, and recycles or redevelops brownfield sites, particularly communities that disproportionally experience climate-change-related consequences. DOT will assess whether the project has addressed environmental sustainability, including but not limited to the following examples:

(1) A Local/Regional/State Climate Action Plan which results in lower greenhouse gas emissions has been prepared and the project directly supports that Climate Action Plan;

(2) A Local/Regional/State Equitable Development Plan has been prepared and the project directly supports that Equitable Development Plan;

(3) The project sponsor has used environmental justice tools such as the EJSCREEN to minimize adverse impacts to environmental justice communities (https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/); or

(4) A Local/Regional/State Energy Baseline Study has been prepared and the project directly supports that study;

(5) The project supports a modal shift in freight or passenger movement to reduce emissions, or reduce induced travel demand. The project utilizes demand management strategies to reduce congestion, induced travel demand, and greenhouse gas emissions;

(6) The project incorporates electrification infrastructure, zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, or both;

(7) The project supports the installation of electric vehicle charging stations;

(8) The project promotes energy efficiency;

(9) The project serves the renewable energy supply chain;

(10) The project improves disaster preparedness and resiliency;

(11) The project avoids adverse environmental impacts to air or water quality, wetlands, and endangered species, such as through reduction in Clean Air Act criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases, improved stormwater management, or improved habitat connectivity;

(12) The project repairs existing dilapidated or idle infrastructure that is currently causing environmental harm (e.g. brownfield redevelopment);

(13) The project supports or incorporates the construction of energy- and location-efficient buildings;

(14) The project proposes recycling of materials, use of materials known to reduce or reverse carbon emissions, or both.

If you thought that those differences were vast, then here are the differing versions of detail text for the “quality of life” selection criteria. First, from the Trump NOFO:

DOT will consider the extent to which the project: (i) increases transportation choices for individuals to provide more freedom on transportation decisions; (ii) expands access to essential services for communities across the United States, particularly for rural communities; or (iii) improves connectivity for citizens to jobs, health care, and other critical destinations, particularly for rural communities.

Then, from the Biden NOFO:

DOT will consider the extent to which the project: (i) increases transportation choices and equity for individuals; (ii) expands access to essential services for communities across the United States, particularly for underserved or disadvantaged communities; (iii) improves connectivity for citizens to jobs, health care, and other critical destinations, or (iv) proactively addresses racial equity and barriers to opportunity, through the planning process or through incorporation of design elements. DOT will assess whether the project addresses quality of life, including but not limited to the following examples:

(1)  A racial equity impact analysis has been completed for the project;

(2)  The project sponsor has adopted an equity and inclusion program/plan or has otherwise instituted equity-focused policies related to project procurement, material sourcing, construction, inspection, hiring, or other activities designed to ensure racial equity in the overall project delivery and implementation.

(3)  The project includes physical-barrier-mitigating land bridges, caps, lids, linear parks, and multimodal mobility investments that either redress past barriers to opportunity or that proactively create new connections and opportunities for underserved communities that are underserved by transportation;

(4)  The project includes new or improved walking, biking, and rolling access for the disabled, especially access that reverses the disproportional impacts of crashes on people of color, and mitigate neighborhood bifurcation; or

(5)  The project includes new or improved freight access to underserved communities to increase access to goods and job opportunities for those underserved communities.

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