AASHTO Journal

USDOT Launches ‘Build America Bureau’ for Most of Its Infrastructure Finance Programs

The U.S. Department of Transportation used new authority under the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act to open what it calls the "Build America Bureau" as a new office to house most of the department's project finance units that provide grants and loans or technical assistance and information on bonds.

"The Build America Bureau will be a one-stop shop to help develop projects and provide financing in a single streamlined, effective and comprehensive manner," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "It will allow DOT to be responsive to America's changing transportation needs and opportunities, so we can deliver real, tangible infrastructure development for local, regional, and national population centers."

dollarpump.jpgThe Bureau combines the following programs:
-Long-term, low-interest TIFIA project loans first created under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, for which the government covers the borrower's risk premium.
-Long-term, low-interest Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing or RRIF loans, which were formerly under the Federal Railroad Administration and for which borrowers must prepay a risk premium amount as set by federal officials.
-Private activity bonds, which are tax-advantaged bonds issued specifically in the credit markets to raise project funds.
-The USDOT's new "Fastlane" program in the Highway Trust Fund that awards competitive grants to multimodal projects aimed at improving freight corridors or at highway projects that make significant traffic efficiency upgrades. 
-The Build America Transportation Investment Center, which is a USDOT office that provides guidance to states, municipalities and project sponsors on how to use federal finance programs or private capital in public-private partnerships. It also works in conjunction with the BATIC Institute: An AASHTO Center for Excellence.

Not included in the Bureau announcement was the USDOT's well-known TIGER infrastructure grants program, which is outside of the FAST Act and Highway Trust Fund and has been funded since its beginnings in 2009 through annual general fund appropriations. TIGER is managed by the Office of the Secretary.

"The Bureau will utilize the full resources of all the modes within DOT," the announcement said, "and continue to promote a culture of innovation and customer service. To the customer, there will be a single entity in charge of DOT credit . . . and a single point of contact for working with DOT on infrastructure finance and development.

It also said the Bureau Outreach and Development team, continuing the work of the BATIC, will work with project sponsors on how they can best combine DOT credit and funding with innovative project delivery approaches such as P3s, and offer them technical assistance to get them ready. 

Now, it said, the department's credit team "will be able to underwrite loans from multiple sources together, so that the customer is no longer getting a TIFIA loan or a RRIF loan, but instead a single credit package from DOT to help them build the infrastructure they need."

And the Bureau will manage the application and evaluation process for the Fastlane grants to fund high-impact projects affecting movement of people and freight.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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