ATLANTA — While June typically kicks off the holiday season, it’s proving to be a busy month for local transportation officials across Georgia.
City and county transit agencies are scrambling to compile slates of projects to submit by the June 30 deadline for a first round of grants under the bipartisan Infrastructure Spending Bill 1, $2 trillion that 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, rolling out part of the initiative, $12.5 billion earmarked for bridge projects.
“We are getting to work now to fix roads and bridges across America. … This work is vital. It’s urgent.”
By far, the largest portion of Georgia’s share of funding — $8.9 billion — will go to repairing and rebuilding roads and highways. Another $1.4 billion will help fund public transit projects, with allocations of less than $1 billion each for water and sewer systems, airports, bridges, charging stations for electric vehicles and broadband.
The Atlanta area is starting faster than the rest of the state. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) of 10 counties released a list of proposed projects for the first round of funding last month.
While the list includes some road projects, much of the $45 million would go to transit infrastructure in Cobb and Clayton counties, electric buses and electric vehicle charging stations.
“This first round of funding demonstrates the impact of the Infrastructure Act in helping us build a safer, better connected, more equitable and resilient region,” said Anna Roach, Executive Director of ARC.
“The Atlanta area must work together to maximize the transformative potential of infrastructure law.”
With transit service not as extensive outside of metro Atlanta, most of the federal funds that local governments elsewhere in Georgia are likely to seek will be for freeway projects, Bill Twomey said, responsible for county council services for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
“We’re not talking about smaller projects,” he said. “It would be bigger projects with economies of scale.”
Twomey said larger counties in Georgia will have an advantage over smaller counties in applying for grants because their transit agencies tend to have larger staff who are familiar with federal procurement requirements.
However, the rules are different this time, Twomey said.
“In the past, the state road crew [Department of Transportation] was generally middleman on a lot of these federal programs,” said. “This is not the case [this time.] … It’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 helps city officials navigate the complexities of seeking federal grants.
The GMA has created a page on its website at https://www.gacities.com/BIL.aspx serve as a clearinghouse of information on how to apply for grants under the Infrastructure Spending Bill.
Taylor also pointed out the build.gov Site developed by the White House.
“It contains a table and a matrix showing the types of programs and the agency you should apply to,” she said. “There are going to be about 400 programs.”
The GMA will also present a panel discussion on infrastructure law at its annual convention in Savannah later this month. The panel will include representatives from the White House, the US Department of Transportation and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
Taylor said the state’s various regional planning commissions will also help the city’s transit agencies prepare and submit project listings, a role the ARC has already played in Metro Atlanta.
Twomey said the opportunity the infrastructure spending bill presents to local governments is huge, if they can remove bureaucratic barriers to landing grants.
“This is a huge amount of new funding compared to what has been there in the past,” he said.
“The bottom line will depend on cities and counties being able to take advantage of the program and meet federal guidelines.”
This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.