ATLANTA – While June typically kicks off vacation season, it’s turning out to be a busy month for local transportation officials across Georgia.
City and county transportation agencies are scrambling to put together project lists to submit ahead of a June 30 deadline for an initial round of grants through the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending bill President Joe Biden signed into law last November.
“After years of promises, the Biden-Harris administration has acted,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Thursday as he rolled out a portion of the initiative, $12.5 billion earmarked for bridge projects.
“We are getting to work now fixing roads and bridges across America. … This work is vital. It is urgent.”
By far the largest portion of Georgia’s share of the funding – $8.9 billion – will go to repair and rebuild roads and highways. Another $1.4 billion will help finance public transit projects, with allocations of fewer than $1 billion each going toward water and sewer systems, airports, bridges, electric vehicle charging stations and broadband.
The Atlanta area is off to a faster start than the rest of the state. The 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) released a list of proposed projects last month for the first round of funding.
While the list includes some road projects, much of the $45 million would go toward transit infrastructure in Cobb and Clayton counties, electric buses and EV charging stations.
“This initial round of funding demonstrates the impact of the infrastructure law to help us build a safer, better connected, more equitable and resilient region,” said Anna Roach, the ARC’s executive director.
“The Atlanta region must work together to maximize the transformative potential of the infrastructure law.”
With public transit service not nearly as extensive outside of metro Atlanta, most of the federal funds local governments elsewhere across Georgia are likely to seek will be for highway projects, said Bill Twomey, county consulting services manager for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
“We’re not talking lower-scope projects,” he said. “These would be larger projects with economies of scale.”
Twomey said Georgia’s larger counties will have an advantage over the smaller counties in applying for grants because their transportation agencies tend to have larger staffs that are familiar with federal procurement requirements.
However, the rules are different this time, Twomey said.
“In the past, the highway crew for the state [Department of Transportation] was usually to go-between on a lot of these federal programs,” said. “That is not the case [this time.] … That’s going to be a hurdle for some counties.”
Becky Taylor, director of federal relations and research for the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), said her organization is helping city officials navigate the complexities of seeking federal grant funding.
The GMA has created a page on its website at https://www.gacities.com/BIL.aspx to serve as a clearinghouse for information on how to apply for grants through the infrastructure spending bill.
Taylor also pointed to the build.gov website developed by the White House.
“It has a chart and matrix showing program types and what agency you need to apply to,” she said. “There are going to be about 400 programs.”
The GMA also will feature a panel session on the infrastructure law at its annual convention in Savannah late this month. The panel will include representatives of the White House, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
Taylor said the various regional planning commissions around the state also will help city transportation agencies prepare and submit project lists, a role the ARC already has performed in metro Atlanta.
Twomey said the opportunity the infrastructure spending bill represents for local governments is huge, if they can clear the bureaucratic obstacles to landing grants.
“This is a considerable amount of new funding compared to what’s been out there in the past,” he said.
“The net result is going to depend on whether cities and counties think they can take advantage of the program and adhere to federal guidelines.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.