FHWA Issues Rule on New Grant Program
But Lacks Funds to Make First Awards

September 28, 2010

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has established criteria for funding highway projects of national and regional significance, as required by the current federal transportation authorization law known as “SAFETEA-LU.”

The program is designed to provide grants to states for Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS) “to improve the safe, secure and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the United States and to improve the health and welfare of the national economy,” according to the Federal Register.

Under the criteria, states can submit such highway projects to FHWA. FHWA will then judge each submission similar to the way the Federal Transit Administration currently rates bus and rail “new starts” capital project proposals: “highly recommended,” “recommended,” or “not recommended” for federal funding. There is presently no such rating system for highway projects.

The goal was to establish a program to finance critical, high-cost transportation infrastructure facilities that address critical national, economic and transportation needs. These projects often involve multiple levels of government, agencies, modes of transportation, and transportation goals and planning processes that are not easily addressed or funded within existing surface transportation program categories.

SAFETEA-LU authorized $1.8 billion for this grant program, but Congress earmarked all the funds for other projects and has not yet appropriated any additional funds for this grant program.

If money is made available in coming years for the new program, states could seek funding for projects that are at least $500 million, or 75 percent or more, of a state’s annual apportionment.

The final rule is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-25382.pdf.