U.S. awards nearly $1 billion in infrastructure grants

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department said Friday it was awarding nearly $1 billion in infrastructure grants as the Biden administration prepares to dramatically boost funding on the nation’s roads, bridges, rail, transit and other projects.

The grants under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program are going to 90 projects in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, to rebuild roads and add rail lines — but also create new green space, new trails, bike lanes and safer streets for pedestrians.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the department had received a “a ten-to-one ratio of requests to available dollars” for the grants.

Seattle will receive $20 million to reconstruct a 1.1-mile road segment and will also add a bike lane. Washington County, Oregon will receive $12.2 million for a 15-mile trail.

Charlotte, North Carolina will receive $15 million to construct a new multimodal transit center and New Orleans is getting $18.5 million to improve transit fare collection. Manchester, New Hampshire will receive $25 million to reconnect the city’s South Millyard district to surrounding neighborhoods and downtown.

Atlanta will receive a $900,000 planning grant to advance a project to “cap” the I-75/I-85 Downtown Connector highway, which would create 14 acres of green space and reconnect neighborhoods separated from downtown by the highway.

Republican Representative Garret Graves said the Biden administration was funding green space rather than focusing on eliminating congestion. “This is supposed to be a transportation program. We sit in traffic and they get ‘green space.'”

Under the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden, the Transportation Department will receive $660 billion over five years, including $210.5 billion to be awarded in competitive grants. Of that $71 billion is for new grant programs.

Department officials are crossing the country to tout infrastructure spending. Buttigieg is in Phoenix to discuss the bill’s impact on transit and airport funding, while Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg is Pennsylvania and other department officials are in California.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Senators reach deal on major points of U.S. infrastructure bill

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate negotiators have reached agreement on the major components of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, clearing the way for a procedural vote on Wednesday to move toward formal debate and passage, lawmakers said.

The agreement, which follows months of talks between Senate Democrats and Republicans, is also backed by President Joe Biden and expected to gain strong support from lawmakers on both sides of the party aisle.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator Rob Portman, the two lead Senate negotiators, announced the agreement to reporters in the Capitol. Details on transit and broadband were still being finalized but lawmakers said legislative text would be completed soon.

“We do expect to move forward this evening. We’re excited to have a deal,” Sinema said. “We’ve got most of the text done, so we’ll be releasing it and then we’ll update it as we get those last pieces finalized.”

Sinema described Biden as “very excited” about the package.

Addressing a concern over funding among Republican lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Portman said the package is “more than paid for” and added: “We look forward to moving ahead and having a healthy debate.”

The procedural vote would simply limit debate on whether the Senate should begin considering a bipartisan infrastructure investment bill, thought to be in the range of $1.2 trillion.

The bipartisan bill, which failed a similar vote last week when major issues remained unresolved, is a key component of Biden’s larger domestic policy agenda. Democrats plan to address the remainder with a sweeping $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that Republicans have vowed to oppose.

The bill will propose $550 billion in new spending, a Republican source said, down from $579 billion in a framework the negotiators sketched out several weeks ago.

It scraps previous plans to spend $20 billion to create an infrastructure financing authority, sources in both parties said. It had been intended to attract investment through private-public partnerships, but Republicans opposed Democratic demands designed to lift worker wages by attaching requirements that contractors pay prevailing wages, typically higher levels secured by unions.

Four other Republican negotiators joined Portman, including Senator Lisa Murkowski, who said the agreement showed Republicans and Democrats in the sharply divided U.S. Congress “can come together over really hard stuff to negotiate in good faith to broker an agreement.”

The agreement includes $110 billion for roads, $65 billion to expand broadband access and $47 billion for environmental resiliency, the lawmakers said.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said a procedural vote on a bipartisan bill was possible as soon as Wednesday night.

“Senators continue to make good progress,” Democrat Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Before the announcement, Murkowski told reporters: “I think that there is a strong, solid number of folks on both sides of the aisle that want to get on to an infrastructure package.”

Democrats hope to pass this month or early next month whatever measure is agreed upon in the bipartisan negotiations.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell, additional reporting by David Shepardson and Richard Cowan; editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis, Diane Craft and David Gregorio)