Trump Administration Prioritizing Infrastructure in Rural, GOP-Led Areas

Infrastructure projects located in Republican-represented House districts received three times as much funding from a $1.5 billion pool of federal transportation grants as those located in Democratic-led districts, according to the list of Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD grants released for BUILD 2018.

Among the high-profile awards was $25 million toward restoring and rehabilitating the masonry arches and foundations of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, New York’s only successful project in the competition for the discretionary grants. Conspicuously overlooked was any funding for the Gateway project to build new Hudson River tunnel and bridge crossings between New York and New Jersey in one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors.

Congress tripled the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program’s funding to $1.5 billion in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law (Public Law 115-141), over White House calls to instead cut the program’s funding. The Transportation Department announced April 20 it would reconfigure the program as BUILD. The program allows states to compete for grants to fund road, rail, transit and port projects that advance national objectives. The Trump administration version also values rural investment and projects with non-federal revenue.

Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects in rural areas were much more likely to receive BUILD funds than transit projects, reflecting the administration’s priorities. Projects that did go to Democratic-held districts tended to benefit members of transportation or appropriations committees in the House or states with influential senators on similar committees.

Notable Projects

The 91 grants average $16 million per project. Twenty-three benefit Democratic-led districts, 64 went to Republican districts, and four were multidistrict awards.

The smallest award—$1.3 million—was one of the few public transit programs funded, construction of a maintenance facility for the North Central Regional Transit rural bus service in New Mexico.

Twelve projects received the maximum grants of $25 million, but the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, represented by Republican Will Hurd, was the lucky recipient of two awards and got a total of $50 million for two different road projects.

Other highlights include investments in projects that will lay the foundation for self-driving vehicle testing, including one in Las Vegas and another in Jacksonville, Fla. Colorado received $20 million to install fiber optics cables along 540 miles of interstate highway.

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Hydrogen Fuel Cells & the Future of Clean Energy

On October 8, states around the country celebrated “National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day.”  Given that the standard atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008, the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and several state legislative bodies, on 10/08, passed resolutions in support of this rapidly developing technology.

Fuel cells are playing an increasingly important role as many states, municipalities, and corporations aim to reduce their emissions and increase their use of clean energy technology.

The United States federal government has provided important support to research and development efforts in the form of grants to, and partnerships with, universities and start-ups in dozens of states.

As a public policy issue, the regulation and implementation of a hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure has the potential to move quickly to the forefront in states and municipalities across the nation.

The deployment of fuel cells has varied significantly from state to state according to a recent report ordered by the US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

For example, California has seen significant investment in fuel cell infrastructure, with the construction of more than 29 retail hydrogen fuel stations to date, and continued funding until 100 are operational.  These investments have helped lead to 1,500 Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV’s) being sold or leased in the state between January 2016-2017.

Conversely, in a state like Indiana, there has been relatively little use of fuel cell technology to date, with stationary units providing backup power to 19 AT&T cell towers and undisclosed government facilities.

States continue to lay the groundwork for new rules and regulations to take advantage of the potential promised by fuel cell technology.

On October 11, in recognition of National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day, the New Jersey State Assembly Science, Innovation & Technology and the Assembly Commerce & Economic Development Committees held a joint hearing on the future of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology in New Jersey.

Following the hearing, Commerce & Economic Development Chair Assemblyman Gordon Johnson noted that “hydrogen and fuel cell technology is a nearly untapped alternative energy resource with both environmental and economic benefits for the state of New Jersey… New Jersey needs to be prepared to take full advantage of this technology as we act to reduce pollution and greenhouse emissions.”

Science, Innovation & Technology Chair Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker echoed these sentiments, saying that “it’s now up to us to come up with legislation that makes sense for the people of New Jersey.”