On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Building Back a Better America; legislation technically known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This legislation was unique as it was prepared with great regard and respect to local government command and control of their infrastructure. In addition to the multitude of historic block grants to state DOT’s and other agencies, it established a plethora of new grant programs that counties, cities, towns and planning agencies can pursue. The local governments can receive the grants directly from the Federal government with no oversight by state agencies. Never have local governments had such freedom and opportunity to pursue grants important to them and their citizens.
Local governments in Colorado should seize this opportunity to submit thoughtful and carefully planned grants to address and enhance critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water, and broadband communication. The number of grant opportunities identified within the IIJA and the processes and rules associated with the grants may be overwhelming, especially for agencies and organizations that haven’t been through grant application processes before. A great guide that all local government leaders may wish to review is the White House Guide to the IIJA found at BUILDING-A-BETTER-AMERICA_FINAL.pdf (whitehouse.gov). But be aware this is 450 pages long, so read grant definitions and eligibility carefully as you look for opportunities.
There are several things that local governments should consider to both address their most critical needs and to best compete for these grants:
- Start with your public works plans (i.e., transportation, water and utility) and focus on your most priority capital needs. Consider projects that you have not been able to execute due to funding constraints.
- Note the new opportunities in broadband – make sure your system and needs are properly mapped.
- Grants are attracted to broader coalitions – so seek partnerships with neighboring communities and be able to demonstrate regional benefits where applicable.
- Capitalize on existing relationships within the local Federal agencies and where beneficial, seek and develop new relationships. These staff members can serve as your ally and partner as you navigate the processes.
- Seek the support from consultant planning and engineering firms. They have the experience, insights, and technical expertise to make your grants more competitive and successful.
- Be patient – the grants selection process is typically slow, and it is anticipated the number of grant applications submitted in this program will be much larger than previous programs.
Federal grants do require that you adhere to and follow standard Federal policies with regards to such things as the competitive selection of engineers and contractors, environmental regulations, and property acquisition. It is critical to be cognizant of these requirements or your project could be jeopardized mid-stream.
There are billions of dollars available through the IIJA and the competition for these dollars will be significant. Preparing high quality applications that address all the elements of the grant will be essential to have a chance. Colorado needs to be bold and work hard to get our fair share or better from this huge infrastructure program. If Colorado local governments put forward good, competitive grant requests, Colorado stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in investments. Now is the time every community should be looking for an opportunity to address a critical need for citizens and to build back your community better too!
Jeff Kullman, P.E. is a seasoned leader with a demonstrated history working within both the public and private sector of the transportation infrastructure industry – always focused on improving Colorado’s quality of life. He also serves on the Move Colorado Board of Directors. To learn more, click here.