Disaster Affected Bridges, Roads See Funding
Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $749 million in funding for the construction and repair of roads and bridges damaged by catastrophic events and extreme weather. The aid will reportedly benefit 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
According to the release, the extreme weather events were reportedly eligible for federal reimbursement under the Federal Highway Administration program, as the result of major disaster declarations.
“When natural disasters destroy vital transportation links, it impacts countless people who rely on those roads, bridges, and tunnels every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Cleanup and repairs can take years, and these funds are an important way our Department can help get families and communities moving again.”
“These climate events take their toll on communities, often impacting the economic livelihood and the quality of life for residents who are forced to make changes to their daily lives to accommodate damaged roads and infrastructure,” said FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt.
“Through these long-term investments from FHWA’s Emergency Relief Program and new programs available in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we will continue to address the devastating impacts of climate change and catastrophic events and work to build more resilient transportation infrastructure.”
The administration noted that natural disasters and other catastrophic events can require yearlong recovery. A majority of the Emergency Relief funding goes towards reimbursement to fix and restore roads and bridges in the aftermath of wildfires, hurricanes, flooding and other weather-related events, such as Hurricane Ian in Florida, rainstorms and wildfires throughout California, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and flooding in and around Yellowstone Park in 2022.
The latest round of funding reportedly complements other programs from other programs in the bipartisan infrastructure law for transportation infrastructure resiliency, like the PROTECT Distortionary Grant Program.
The PROTECT Discretionary Grant Program is expected to reduce damage and disruption to the transportation system, improve the safety of the traveling public and save money in the long term. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law includes $7.3 billion in PROTECT formula funding over a five-year period to states.
In addition to the Emergency Relief funding, the FHWA reports it is updating its Emergency Relief Manual to highlight the program’s impact on improvements to system resilience. The agency has also created a new rulemaking to amend the FHWA Emergency Relief program regulations to incorporate climate resiliency while making it possible to use more ER funds toward improving system resilience.
A full list of funding, broken down by each state, can be found here.
PROTECT Program Applications
Last month, the FHWA opened applications for the first round of the bipartisan infrastructure law’s Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Discretionary Grant Program.
The PROTECT program offers the funding to states over five years to make transportation infrastructure more resilient to future weather events and other natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding and extreme heat. The focus will be on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure.
According to the FHWA, in general, eligible projects include highway and transit projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and port facilities including those that help improve evacuations or disaster relief. States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation, emergency response improvements and address vulnerabilities.
Eligible improvements can involve adapting existing transportation infrastructure or new construction to keep communities safe by bolstering infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events and other physical hazards. Additionally, projects may include the use of natural or green infrastructure to buffer future storm surges and provide flood protection, as well as aquatic ecosystem restoration.
The FHWA reports that PROTECT builds on other U.S. Department of Transportation actions to support the Biden Administration’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. These actions include a proposed rule for states and municipalities to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the Carbon Reduction Program, which will provide $6.4 billion in formula funding to states and local governments to develop carbon reduction strategies; and the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will provide $5 billion to states to build out a national electric vehicle charging network.
Previous Disaster Spending
In August last year, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced more than $1 billion in federal spending for disasters to be made available through a series of grants. The grants—awarded to states to help communities across the nation prepare and respond to natural disasters—arrived in wake of the deadly flooding experienced in Kentucky and California wildfires.
According to reports, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program is funded through FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden last year.
The program will support states, local communities, tribes and territories on projects aimed at reducing climate-related hazards and preparing for natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires. The allotted $1 billion in funding is noted to be double what was provided last year. In addition, the program will also be offering another $160 million for flood mitigation assistance.
In a statement, President Biden reported that spending for disaster relief and preparations would be doubled yet again in the budget year (which begins in October), totaling $2.3 billion for communities.
The funding will be awarded through programs like BRIC and others administered by FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies sharing the goal of reducing heat-related illness and protecting public health.