The Department of Transportation (DOT) just issued an RFP for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grants program; this being the federal government, the actual name of this program is the “Local and Regional Project Assistance Program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’)”, which is even longer than the short title we shoehorned into the title of this post. Why have one program name when two will do?
Although RAISE isn’t a new program, this RFP is significant because it appears to be the first one issued under the recently passed “Infrastructure Bill.” While in FY ’20 there was a paltry $1B available for RAISE, this year there’s $1.5B (and yes, that’s “billion”). The max grants are $5M in urban areas and $1M in rural areas, so hundreds of RAISE grants will be made. The RFP says RAISE grants may be used for “surface transportation infrastructure projects that will have a significant local or regional impact.” The deadline isn’t yet published, curiously, but there’ll be an update notice published on Jan. 30 in grants.gov that should have the deadline.
Eligible applicants include states, local governments, transportation districts and agencies—including ports, and Indian Tribes. While nonprofits aren’t directly eligible, they could be part of an applicant consortium and receive sub-grants for things like environmental justice, equity, workforce development, ethnic-specific community outreach and engagement, etc.
RAISE and other transportation programs, new and old, to be funded by the Infrastructure Bill, are really aimed at what is sometimes called the Concrete Lobby. The Concrete Lobby is an unholy alliance of construction companies, developers, local elected officials and appointed bureaucrats, unions, investment banks, lobbyists, chambers of commerce, and similar self-interested parties. In many ways, the Concrete Lobby is an analog of the Military-Industrial Complex that likes politicians who like foreign wars, so the government will buy more bullets. In this case, the Concrete Lobby wants the government to “buy more concrete.”
When I was a Community Development Director for CA cities in the 1980s, we always paid close attention to local Concrete Lobby members because they could easily and often would hand-pick candidates for local office, disrupting planning and redevelopment efforts (despite their efforts, though, local municipalities still severely restrict housing construction). Environmental groups and other NIMBYs typically opposed the Concrete Lobby, using tools like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and State Offices of Historic Preservation (SHPO) to tie up or defeat local development projects, including those aimed at transit and transportation.* We see the results today: traffic gridlock and spectacularly high housing prices that hurt the poor the most, but hurt almost everyone. Depending on how the city I was working for felt about a particular project, we’d either support or surreptitiously attempt to sabotage environmental and NIMBY opposition. If you’re an environmental activist, keep in mind that, while you’re playing a one to five year game, the Concrete Lobby and their sycophants in government are playing a 30 to 50 year game.
With so much grant money now sloshing around looking for transportation projects and the rise of “woke environmentalism,” I’m guessing that the Concrete Lobby will try to co-opt opposition by most environmental groups with visions of subcontracts, as well as the virtue signaling sacraments of environmental justice and the suddenly popular shibboleth of “equity.” If you represent an eligible applicant for RAISE grants or a nonprofit interested in subcontracts, this is the time to look for good project concepts. We’ll soon post a companion article on how to develop a competitive grant proposal for RAISE and its ilk. These kinds of proposals are very different than typical human services proposals as the narratives are short, but the attachments are huge, resulting in what we call “layer cake” applications.
* When I was Community Development Director for the City of San Ramon in the San Francisco East Bay around 1990, we worked hard to get the regional transit authority to add bus lines through San Ramon to connect to the BART heavy rail system. We imagined that our largely upper middle class and progressive residents would love the idea of reducing use of cars for commuting. They were environmentalists, right? Wrong! Within two weeks of the new buses, which were standard size or larger articulated buses, rolling though town, about 200 people in matching anti-bus t-shirts showed up at a city council meeting denouncing the intrusive buses that were keeping them awake at night and “ruining their quality of life.” I had the thankless task of facing this mob. The City Council immediately caved and directed me to renegotiate with the transit authority. The result was to remove most trunk bus lines and add a few mini-buses, which defeated the point of connecting to BART for commuting.