Washington Update

Last week, President Joe Biden traveled to East Palestine, Ohio, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Norfolk Southern (NS) derailment. Biden last year ordered his Federal Emergency Management Agency to appoint a coordinator to oversee East Palestine’s long-term recovery efforts. He’s also tasked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with evaluating whether NS has followed through on its commitment to address any lingering threats to the town generated by the derailment. President Biden announced new research grants to study ongoing health impacts from the derailment. The grants will go to six research universities for studying the short and long term effects of the February 3, 2023 derailment. During the visit, President Biden also reiterated his support for the Rail Safety Act, which was introduced last year by Sens. JD Vance (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). 


On January 25, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced close to $5 billion in grants to fund 37 projects through the INFRA and Mega programs. 28 projects were awarded over $2.9 billion through INFRA and over $2 billion was awarded to 11 projects through MEGA. INFRA (the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight & Highway Projects program) awards competitive grants for multimodal freight and highway projects of national or regional significance to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of the movement of freight and people in and across rural and urban areas. The Mega Program (the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program) supports large, complex projects that are difficult to fund by other means and likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility or safety benefits. To read more about the FY2023-2024 INFRA Projects, please click here. To read more about the FY2023-2024 Mega Projectsplease click here.


Additionally, DOT is offering $1.5 billion in grant funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program for FY2024. Information on How to Apply for RAISE Grants is available on the RAISE website. This is one of the Department’s most popular programs in that it can fund a wide range of transportation planning, pre-construction activities, and capital projects. The RAISE NOFO is available here and the deadline for applications is 11:59 PM EST on February 28, 2024.


On January 24, the Surface Transportation Board announced that it has adopted final rule to amend its emergency service regulations to provide immediate relief for shippers in certain situations. The final rule explains that the Board may act on its own initiative to direct emergency rail service and establishes an accelerated process for acute service emergencies. As a result from feedback the Board received informally from a large pool of stakeholders regarding inconsistent and unreliable rail service, the Board issued two orders mandating service in urgent situations. Among other processes, the final rule describes the procedures for petitioning the Board for expedited relief for service emergencies. To read more on the final rule, please click here.


Also on January 24, USDOT approved $2.5 billion in private activity bonds for Brightline West High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Project. The $12 billion, 218 mile, high-speed rail line will be a fully electric, zero-emission system and will primarily run along the I-15 median with trains capable of reaching at least 186 mph. The project once completed, with trains capable of reaching 186 mph, would cut the trip to two hours (the same trek by car runs roughly four hours). “Building a high speed rail corridor from Las Vegas to southern California will drive economic investment and opportunity across the region,” said USDOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg. “Residents and visitors alike will benefit from access to a fast and sustainable travel option that better connects key cities.” As note, USDOT previously approved a private activity bond allocation of $1 billion for Brightline West in 2020, bringing the total allocation for this project to $3.5 billion. In December, USDOT also awarded a $3 billion grant from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the Nevada Department of Transportation for the project.