U.S. DOT’s BUILD Grant Program

The BUILD competitive grant program (previously known as TIGER) was first conceived as part of the emergency stimulus measures during the height of the Great Financial Crisis. It was so popular it has received appropriations every year since and now become a mainstay of federal transportation project funding.

This program demonstrated a shift in policy, practice and philosophy at the top levels of Congress and DOT. The grants are competitive, a distinction in a sector where most funding was historically doled out through formulas or earmarks. Eligibility is broad, allowing the smallest public entities to compete independently. The program was intentionally cross-modal, inviting applications for all types of surface transportation projects, with an emphasis on multimodal activities. Finally, the program established a matrix of criteria for application assessment aligned with DOT’s strategic policy goals including a requirement to submit a benefit-cost analysis (BCA). A BCA is a spreadsheet exercise that quantifies in dollar terms the public impacts of a project proposed for federal funding.

BUILD grants are highly competitive. DOT’s selection criteria include safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability, quality of life, innovation and partnership. Project readiness is an important competitive consideration. The maximum BUILD grant award is $25 million and for urban projects a minimum 20% non-federal match is required. DOT is mandated by Congress to make awards in a balanced fashion that provide regional and modal equity. As of 2019 awards must be split 50/50 between urban and rural projects, urban projects being those that are carried out in a census-designated place with a population over 200,000.

The current White House is an enthusiastic supporter of projects featuring aggressive non-federal funding matches, innovative financing, innovative technology and public-private partnerships, as well as projects that support U.S. exports and domestic production of energy resources. Projects in IRS-designated Opportunity Zones are highlighted as being of interest in the current cycle.

Seneca’s Role

Seneca has supported grant applicants in every annual competition. We provide “turnkey” services for project sponsors whereby we take responsibility to work with your technical and management team to develop the entire narrative, perform supporting analyses including the BCA and to develop and execute a comprehensive stakeholder support strategy.

Nearly all applications we have supported have reached the “highly recommended” category that are forwarded to Secretary of Transportation for the final evaluation round. The Seneca team has supported the following winning applications:

  • TIGER II: Seneca prepared a successful TIGER grant application for $10.2 million in grant funds for the Great Plains Freight Rail Service Preservation and Improvement Project. This project relocated an active rail yard from an urban area, built a rolling stock maintenance facility and rehabilitated rail infrastructure across Kansas and Oklahoma to enable faster train speeds and heavier railcars.
  • TIGER III: Seneca wrote a successful $6.6 million TIGER grant application for the Solomon Rural Rail Upgrade Project. The project refurbished 84 miles of rail restricted by weight and speed limits permitting the KYLE railroad to utilize full 286,000-pound industry-standard railcars.
  • TIGER IV: Seneca wrote a successful $7.1 million TIGER grant application for the Siskiyou Summit Railroad Revitalization Project. The funds supported rehabilitation of a 296-mile stretch of the short line railroad operated by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, closed since 2008 due to poor state-of-repair and lack of funds. The grant was used to improve tunnels, rails, ties, and bridges allowing the line to reopen and carry industry-standard 286,000 pound railcars.
  • TIGER IV: Seneca’s sister company, Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, lobbied on behalf of a client to successfully win a $7.9 million TIGER grant for the Northern Vermont Freight Rail Project. This project upgraded 18.8 miles of railroad track between St. Albans, Vermont, and the Canadian border.
  • TIGER V: Seneca wrote a successful $2.7 million TIGER grant application for the Great Western Freight Improvement Project. The project established a Federal Railroad Administration defined Quiet Zone through residential areas in Windsor, Colorado, including addition of safety measures at ten public at-grade crossings
  • TIGER V – Seneca wrote a successful $8.2 million TIGER grant application for the White River Freight Railroad Bridge Replacement Project. TIGER funds were used to replace a 110-year old obsolete steel through-truss freight rail bridge in Greene County, Indiana. The new bridge connects multiple regional freight rail corridors and a Department of Defense facility.
  • TIGER VI: Seneca wrote a successful $12.5 million TIGER grant application for the Southwest Chief Route Improvement Project. This route is owned by the BNSF Railway and hosts the Amtrak intercity train the Southwest Chief. TIGER funds were used to replace ties and rail between Hutchinson, KS and Las Animas, CO.
  • TIGER IX: Seneca wrote three successful applications for TIGER grants awarded to short line railroad projects in Arkansas and Oklahoma and for further investment in the Amtrak Southwest Chief route.

If you are considering an application for a future competitive grant opportunity such as BUILD, advance planning and getting an early start is key to your chances for success.

How to Get Started

Project sponsors can begin by reviewing the extensive documentation provided by U.S. DOT on this grant program here. Potential grant applicants should also review the NEPA documentation at the different modal administrations, such as the Categorical Exclusion information from FRA or FHWA, to understand environmental permitting requirements. Domestic content laws known as Buy America apply to projects receiving BUILD funds. Project sponsors should be aware that such federal requirements, including prevailing wage, can raise project costs.

We begin all of our BUILD application support engagements with a document review and one or more working calls. This is at no charge to the applicant and enables us to assess your project’s eligibility and competitiveness for the current BUILD cycle. We encourage projects sponsors to contact us to set up a time to get started discussing your project.