The Federal Highway Administration issued formal implementing guidance Feb. 29 that allows state departments of transportation to begin drawing on $1.15 billion for this year that was apportioned to them for freight-related projects under the new FAST Act.
That funding stream is the first infusion of money for the new National Highway Freight Program. The five-year highway authorization law also provides $1.1 billion for this program in fiscal 2017 that begins Oct. 1; then it will grow in the final three years of the FAST Act to $1.2 billion, $1.35 billion and $1.5 billion.
The NHFP funding is also a much larger amount of freight-directed money than the U.S. Department of Transportation will award this year under its separate $800 million competitive grant program for freight projects. It opened the process Feb. 26 for would-be applicants to seek those grant funds.
Another benefit to state DOTs of their larger NHFP freight funding stream is that the money is apportioned to them under the same formula as their regular highway program allocations from the Highway Trust Fund. State agencies can plug this funding into their construction plans for the coming year as long as the projects it supports meet NHFP eligibility requirements.
While they knew that money was coming ever since President Obama signed the FAST Act into law Dec. 4, states still needed the formal FHWA guidance to be able to tap it and know its program details. Along with the implantation guidance, the agency posted a series of questions and answers about the program.
“Most of the increased highway program funding in the FAST Act was directed into the National Highway Freight Program and the competitive freight grants,” said AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright. “With both of those accounts now activated, state agencies will soon be using those funds to make important infrastructure improvements that will strengthen the economy and make highways safer.”
The FHWA said that after subtracting a set-aside amount as required in the FAST Act for a Metropolitan Planning Program, it estimates states will receive more than $1.14 billion this year.
The guidance document spells out which types of road miles qualify for freight project spending, and what types of projects are eligible. “Eligible projects shall contribute to the efficient movement of freight on the NHFN, and be identified in a freight investment plan,” the notice said.
Some examples of how state DOTs can spend the NHFP funds are for road projects that separate passenger vehicles from commercial trucks, or for the flyover bridges that eliminate rail crossings by lifting road traffic over train tracks. Others could be truck-only highway lanes, truck parking facilities, electronic screening and border security technologies.
The project list includes more traditional road and bridge capacity projects as well, if they address highway freight bottlenecks and improve truck movement.
States can also use up to 10 percent of the NHFP funds to improve cargo flow in and out of freight intermodal, marine port or freight rail facilities.