Thursday, February 23, 2023

Sizable boost from DC infrastructure bill means more roads fixed/built in Wisconsin in '23

First of all, how did the state get all of this Federal money? The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says it is the result of 2 bills that passed Congress in the first two years of the Biden Administration.
Subsequent to the passage of [the 2021-23 state budget], the federal government passed two complementary acts that reauthorized federal transportation programming and increased federal highway funding to states for federal fiscal year (FFY) 2023. In November, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was enacted, which reauthorized and modified the overarching framework for federal transportation funding over the five ensuing federal fiscal years (2022-26). The IIJA defined the programs that will receive federal transportation funding over this period. In addition, it established upper limits of funding, or "authority," for certain programs in each year of the five-year reauthorization. While upper limits of funding are established for these programs under IIJA, these amounts are subject to annual federal appropriations legislation. This includes the federal highway Page 3 formula aid program, the state's largest source of federal transportation funding. On December 29, 2022, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2023 was enacted, providing federal funding for these federal programs in FFY 2023. The annual appropriation amounts are required to be obligated by the end of the federal fiscal year in which they are provided (September 30). This two-stage legislative process is the standard procedure for the allocation (authorization under IIJA) and appropriation (annual appropriations acts) of federal transportation funding to states. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administers the federal programs and funding.

Separate from this two-stage process, IIJA also provides certain sources of funding that are not subject to annual appropriations legislation. The federal bridge formula program (BFP) and the national electric vehicle infrastructure (NEVI) program are two new programs that are directly funded by IIJA. Further, the funding received under these programs is not required to be obligated in the year it is received, but rather remains available through FFY 2026.
This added funding is going to push the amount of Federal funds from USDOT coming to Wisconsin past the $1 billion mark for the 2023 Fiscal Year.

I’ll note the $55 million in “redistribution aid”. Those are funds that are from projects throughout America that never were used and/or started, and the Wisconsin DOT has to set aside all of their highway funds by September 30 of each year in order to get redistributed funds in future years. Which is another reason WisDOT wanted to get Joint Finance to sign off on this plan as soon as they could.

So what is this extra $181.7 million going to?

The Local Transportation Facilities part makes up nearly half of the additional Fed funding, and is more than doubled under WisDOT’s plan. And those funds fall under several programs that help pay for transportation projects throughout the state.

Additional Fed Funding for Local Transportation Facilities

1. Block grants for local road projects - $57.5 million
2. Highway Safety Improvement Program - $16.2 million
3. Carbon Reduction Program - $15.6 million

You’ll also notice the $45 million being added to block grants to help communities fix bridges, which will more than double the amount of money (state + Federal) that goes for that in Fiscal Year 2023. In addition, there is the bumping the Federal funding of the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) by more than 150%. TAP goes to non-motorized projects and improving safety for children heading to school, and WisDOT is using some of these additional funds to start a new program in rural areas.
In addition, DOT has introduced a new initiative for TAP funding provided to areas of the state under 5,000 in population over the remaining four years of IIJA (FFY 2023-26), entitled safe transportation alternatives for rural schools (STARS). The initiative would issue grants for projects that would create safer walking and biking routes to school for children in grades K-8. DOT indicates that these rural local government entities have historically under-participated in projects of this type due in part to limited levels of administrative and financial capacity. Responding to this concern, the initiative would offer additional administrative support to applicants. Program funding in FFY 2023 and 2024 would be provided primarily for project planning and design, while funding FFY 2025 and 2026 would prioritize constructing infrastructure. Thus, applicants could work with DOT to design an infrastructure project over the first two years of the initiative, then receive funding to construct the project in subsequent years. DOT indicates that it has an open project solicitation for the TAP 2023-26 grant cycle. DOT is currently accepting applications for the STARS program component, which are due on March 24, 2023.
The $16.75 million that goes into the NEVI program reflects a new item in the Infrastructure bill that is intended to allow Wisconsin to build out and operate a network of statewide stations for electric vehicles. 2023 is one of 5 years that the state will get NEVI money from DC for, and the network will grow with it.
…This funding would be provided from FHWA's NEVI formula program, newly-created under IIJA to support states to develop a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations on designated alternative fuel corridors. The NEVI program includes both a formula and discretionary component. Wisconsin is eligible to receive an estimated $78.7 million in NEVI program formula funds through federal fiscal year 2026. The discretionary grant program, which includes a competitive grant program to help deploy charging in communities, will proceed sometime later in 2023 after FHWA issues guidance for the program.

FHWA guidance for the NEVI formula program specifies that new EV charging infrastructure locations should be spaced a maximum distance of 50 miles apart along designated corridors and that EV charging infrastructure should be located no greater than one mile from interstate exits or highway intersections along federally designated alternative fuel corridors. Currently, Wisconsin's alternative fuel corridor federal designations include portions of I-90, I-94, I-39, I-41, I-43, I-535, U.S. 151, U.S. 53, U.S. 51, WIS 29, U.S. 2, and U.S. 141, and all of U.S. 8 and U.S. 41.

A common sight soon enough? WisDOT says almost all of that $16.75 million from DC that's intended for electric vehicle chargers will be put into the 2023-25 state budget, and the state plans to combine the funding from 2023 and other years to make for a wider, more complete project.

The only main change that the Republicans on Joint Finance made to the WisDOT plan involved the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program. This applies to the counties that border Lake Michigan from Door County down to Racine County, as well as Waukesha, Washington, and Walworth Counties in the 262. In a repeat of what was done with extra CMAQ funds in 2022, the WisGOPs on JFC said that the $4.2 million for 2023 could only go for right-of-way improvements, and not transit or bike-pedestrian improvements, or other non-highway methods of improving air quality.

That CMAQ manuever by the GOPs was lame, but whatever. Going forward, this $181.7 million should help move along even more projects this Summer, and lessen the need for the state and local communities to borrow to fix roads and make other improvements to its transportation system. In a time of surplus, these added funds make it even easier to catch up to the neglect of the Walker years, and we are now in a lot better situation than Wisconsin’s road infrastructure was 5 years ago. Both at the state and federal levels.

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