Infrastructure projects located in Republican-represented House districts received three times as much funding from a $1.5 billion pool of federal transportation grants as those located in Democratic-led districts, according to the list of Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD grants released for BUILD 2018.
Among the high-profile awards was $25 million toward restoring and rehabilitating the masonry arches and foundations of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, New York’s only successful project in the competition for the discretionary grants. Conspicuously overlooked was any funding for the Gateway project to build new Hudson River tunnel and bridge crossings between New York and New Jersey in one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors.
Congress tripled the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program’s funding to $1.5 billion in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law (Public Law 115-141), over White House calls to instead cut the program’s funding. The Transportation Department announced April 20 it would reconfigure the program as BUILD. The program allows states to compete for grants to fund road, rail, transit and port projects that advance national objectives. The Trump administration version also values rural investment and projects with non-federal revenue.
Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects in rural areas were much more likely to receive BUILD funds than transit projects, reflecting the administration’s priorities. Projects that did go to Democratic-held districts tended to benefit members of transportation or appropriations committees in the House or states with influential senators on similar committees.
The 91 grants average $16 million per project. Twenty-three benefit Democratic-led districts, 64 went to Republican districts, and four were multidistrict awards.
The smallest award—$1.3 million—was one of the few public transit programs funded, construction of a maintenance facility for the North Central Regional Transit rural bus service in New Mexico.
Twelve projects received the maximum grants of $25 million, but the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, represented by Republican Will Hurd, was the lucky recipient of two awards and got a total of $50 million for two different road projects.
Other highlights include investments in projects that will lay the foundation for self-driving vehicle testing, including one in Las Vegas and another in Jacksonville, Fla. Colorado received $20 million to install fiber optics cables along 540 miles of interstate highway.