Major Cities Series #3: Beyond Infrastructure Week - Possibilities for Federal Infrastructure Grant Funding in New York City

Major Cities Series #3: Beyond Infrastructure Week - Possibilities for Federal Infrastructure Grant Funding in New York City

Brooklyn Bridge
Written by Scott Middleton and Ira Hirschman

With the current economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic still upon us and recovery only just on the horizon, the need for federal assistance is more pressing than ever. In cash-strapped cities like New York, federal aid is critical to meeting ever-present infrastructure needs and accelerating the economic recovery from COVID-19. Fortunately, for some federal grant programs, the 2021 application season is already upon us, and more grant programs will be announced soon.

Grant Season in New York City     
Infrastructure in New York and other major cities has benefitted from competitive grant programs, both at the federal and state levels, and for a variety of infrastructure and resilience project types. As we enter the 2021 grant season, there are several relevant grant programs for decision-makers to monitor. In previous rounds, each of these has delivered gains for the New York City region.

  • INFRA: The Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program funds capital investments in freight-specific megaprojects. In previous rounds of funding, the INFRA program was known as the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) program. In 2021, the USDOT is providing nearly $1 billion in INFRA grants to “shovel ready” investments that prioritize mobility, accessibility, economic growth, safety, environmental justice, and racial equity.
  • INFRA in New York: In the history of the INFRA program, New York City has received just one award, in 2016, for the Port Authority’s Cross Harbor Freight Program. The project helped implement intermodal rail improvements to optimize the Port Authority’s railcar float–an important shipping link between New York and New Jersey. The 2021 Notice of Funding Opportunity for INFRA grants closes on March 19, 2021. Given the limited history of obtaining INFRA grant funding in New York, the region may be “due” for success going forward. The need is real; according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), there are $36 billion in port and access projects that are ready to break ground in New York, including bridge rehab and replacement, grade separation projects, and improvements to marine terminals.
  • BUILD: The USDOT’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program supports projects that build and repair critical pieces of freight and passenger transportation networks. It evolved from the Obama administration’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. The BUILD program is both large-scale (providing more than $9 billion to 678 projects since 2009) and highly competitive (receiving nearly 10,000 applications in requests, totaling over $175 billion). The USDOT is currently revising its 2021 BUILD Notice of Funding Opportunity, which is expected late this spring.
  • BUILD in New York: The BUILD program is especially relevant to the multi-state New York metropolitan area because it allows project sponsors to obtain funding for multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects. The BUILD and TIGER programs have partially funded at least 15 projects in Greater New York, including the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Stamford Transportation Center Escalator and Elevator Improvement Project, for which EBP provided benefit-cost analysis. Another important New York project supported by BUILD is the Brooklyn Bridge Approach Arches and Towers Rehabilitation project. This 2018 BUILD grant allowed the New York City Department of Transportation to painstakingly restore the masonry arches and foundations of the two approaches to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. In the very first round of funding, a 2009 TIGER grant also supported the first phase of construction on the recently opened Moynihan Train Hall, next to Penn Station.

Two other federal infrastructure grant programs with relevance to New York City are MARAD’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) and FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program.

  • PIDP: The PIDP program provides grants to seaports and inland ports on a competitive basis for projects that improve the safety, efficiency, or reliability of the movement of goods.
  • PIDP in New York: In its two rounds of funding, PIDP has not awarded a grant to the New York metro area, although the region did produce several applicants. These included the Bayonne Berth 3 Project, the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal Development Project in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, and the Port Authority’s Port Street Corridor Improvement Project near Newark Airport. While a 2021 Notice of Funding Opportunity has not been issued as of this writing, it is anticipated that the next round of funding will be made available soon; the prior two years saw total grant funding of about $225 million in each year.
  • BRIC: The BRIC program, meanwhile, supports projects that reduce the risk of disasters and natural hazards. Created in 2020, it replaced existing Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program, which has supported several applications in New York and New Jersey. The 2020 BRIC annual application period opened in September and closed earlier this year, with project selections expected this summer.

Resilience Projects Urgently Require Federal Assistance         
Major federal disaster declarations in New York State have yielded $37.3 billion in federal aid for recovery efforts over the past decade. Grant programs have included the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition, which funded innovative ideas for resilience projects in New York City post-Sandy, and FEMA’s post-Sandy emergency competitive grants for transit reconstruction. Other examples of federal assistance include the proposed American Rescue Plan, which includes $90 billion in transportation and infrastructure spending as of this writing. However, this aid may not suffice. Many major projects in and around New York City require federal aid to get out of the door, such as the continued extension of Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway and the rehabilitation of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

The most notable example of a New York region project with significant resilience benefits is the multi-billion-dollar Gateway Program’s expansion and renovation of the Northeast Corridor tunnel under the Hudson River. Building new tunnels and repairing the old ones (which are 110 years-old and were severely damaged in Superstorm Sandy) is estimated to cost $20 to $30 billion, including $11.6 billion to rehabilitate the existing tunnel, in addition to a similar or larger amount to construct a new tunnel, improve Penn Station, and reconstruct the North Portal rail bridge.

Although the price tag is high, analysts have found that the benefits of completing the project would be significant. Completing Gateway would add capacity to the region’s overburdened commuter rail system, which will be essential to rebooting the local economy post-pandemic. Furthermore, the regional rail system was routinely saddled by delays and cancellations before the pandemic (according to analysis by the Partnership for New York City, every hour of delay on New Jersey Transit costs New York business $5.9 million). The full Gateway Program would enhance rail resilience and redundancy. Without the new tunnel, for example, rehabilitating the old tunnel would require Amtrak and New Jersey Transit to limit operations to about one-quarter of current throughput, for a period of about three years. While the states of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak, and the Port Authority have agreed to pay roughly half the project’s costs, federal assistance and coordination is required to complete the effort.

Making the Case      
Communicating the benefits of infrastructure investments is essential to securing federal funding, whether it is for an $11 billion interstate tunnel project or a $10 million signal modernization project in New Jersey. A common requirement of these discretionary grant programs is the need to make an economic case for a project, including the submission of an accompanying Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA). Applicant agencies must generally conduct a robust and rigorous BCA to demonstrate the value achieved with each taxpayer dollar.

Potential applicants can call on our proven track record for providing benefit-cost, economic impact analysis, and technical advisory services on winning applications for infrastructure grant programs. We are familiar with the latest changes in BCA requirements, and, with our software tool TREDIS, we have access to the latest tools necessary to model wider economic impacts of grant spending.  In a grant season like no other, measurement is the key to accessing crucial funding.

This post is the latest in a series on the impacts of COVID-19 on major American cities like New York. Previous posts dealt with food insecurity and transit’s revenue crisis.

Tags: NYC