Trump administration retools Fastlane program

Trump administration retools Fastlane program
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) is retooling an existing grant program to focus on projects that use funding from the private sector or other non-federal sources, as well as projects that address rural infrastructure needs, according to a release obtained by The Hill.

The agency will send a notice to the Federal Register on Thursday about the planned revisions, which offer a glimpse of how President Trump may tackle his $1 trillion infrastructure package later this year.

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The FASTLANE grant program, which was established by the last highway bill to help fund freight and highway projects around the country, will now be called the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program. It was authorized by Congress to receive $4.5 billion over five years, beginning in 2016.

In addition to the name change, the INFRA program’s selection criteria and goals have also been “substantially” revised, according to a fact sheet obtained by The Hill, which claims that the current system has not been working. It will seek to hold recipients more accountable by ensuring grant funding actually goes towards the specific project that was supposed to receive the funding.

The revamped grant program will now place an emphasis on projects that leverage non-federal funding — which could include money from the private sector, states or cities — and projects that use innovative approaches to permitting and project delivery.

New projects will have access to $1.5 billion in grants under the new criterial.

It will still focus on projects that promote national or regional economic, mobility and safety benefits.

“We need to take steps to get more bang for the buck,” the agency said in a fact sheet. “By getting more of our partners to use federal funding as a supplement — not a substitute — we seek to increase the amount of overall funding that goes to infrastructure."

But the DOT also recognizes that rural projects aren’t always good candidates for private sector investment, which is why the department is also calling for an “equitable balance in funding for geographic diversity among recipients.”

INFRA will also retain a statutory requirement to award at least 25 percent of funding towards rural projects.

“The Department intends to consider constraints on an applicant’s ability to generate, attract, or otherwise draw on non-federal or private sector funding when considering each project’s financial plan,” a fact sheet said.

The program changes seem to dovetail with Trump’s infrastructure principles, which have placed a heavy emphasis on speeding up project delivery and bringing down construction costs. His rebuilding package is expected to incentivize private investors to back transportation projects and include massive permitting reform. 

But the infrastructure proposal is also expected to include a direct funding source for rural regions that might be excluded from the private sector model  — a chief concern among rural Republicans and Democrats.