Heinrich, Cramer Lead Bipartisan Call To Create Better Access To Large-Scale Infrastructure Grant Funding

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) are leading a bipartisan group of senators in a call to have the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program adopt an initiative to make access to funding more equitable for all states.

In a letter sent yesterday to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the senators write that “U.S. DOT programs are important for rebuilding our country’s economy and supporting hardworking families. Therefore, equitable federal assistance is critical to helping local governments and community groups meet the needs of all Americans.”

The INFRA grant program is designed for states to complete large-scale projects that address national and regional highway and bridge infrastructure issues – beyond the scope of other discretionary programs.

Currently, there is no requirement to ensure equitable geographic distribution under the INFRA program. Without this requirement, INFRA grants have not been distributed diversely to each state.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

Read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here.

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

We write to request that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) adopt an initiative requiring equitable geographic distribution among recipients of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program. 

The INFRA Program, established under the Fixing Americas Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, seeks to provide federal assistance for nationally and regionally significant freight and highway projects. INFRA is designed for states to complete large-scale projects that address national and regional highway and bridge infrastructure issues – beyond the scope of other discretionary programs. Investments in paved roads and other critical transportation infrastructure is critical to providing the groundwork for economic development and recovery by creating jobs, increasing accessibility, and boosting our freight capabilities. U.S. DOT programs are important for rebuilding our country’s economy and supporting hardworking families. Therefore, equitable federal assistance is critical to helping local governments and community groups meet the needs of all Americans.

Since the program has been implemented, nine states have not received funding to address crucial transportation projects, including Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Vermont. Under the FAST Act, The Secretary of Transportation is required to consider contributions to geographic diversity among grant recipients. Yet, unlike the BUILD/RAISE grant program, there is no requirement to ensure equitable geographic distribution under the INFRA program. Without this requirement, INFRA grants have not been distributed diversely to each state. With no guarantee of surface transportation reauthorization, it is possible our states may never have access to such a large and critical source of federal funding. 

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, recently passed through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, includes an amendment, which would grant priority for INFRA projects “located in States in which neither the State nor an eligible entity in that State has been awarded a grant.” This bill advanced through committee unanimously, displaying the bipartisan support that exists for equitable distribution among the INFRA grant recipients.

Further, the 2019 GAO-19-541 report highlights that DOT has not been transparent in its decision making process for discretionary programs. For example, GAO found that the Department did not adequately document why it contacted some applicants over others. There has been a lapse in providing reliable rationale for award decisions, discrediting the assurance of fairness, especially for our states. We respectfully request that DOT incorporate GAO’s recommendations into discretionary awards this year and beyond. In addition, DOT should ensure geographic diversity among all discretionary grant programs, including the INFRA program. We respectfully request priority be granted to these nine states in the next round of INFRA funding, with an emphasis on ensuring geographic diversity among future award decisions.

We appreciate your attention to this request and hope that you will work to incorporate much-needed diversity and transparency initiatives in your future award decisions.

Sincerely,