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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

BUILD Discretionary Grant Program: Technical, Cost-Effectiveness, and Readiness Evaluations

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Since 2009, the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grant program (formerly known as TIGER) has provided an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to invest in road, rail, transit, and port projects that have the potential to achieve national objectives. 

As the largest discretionary grant program within U.S. DOT, the BUILD program supports surface transportation infrastructure investment in local communities, with funding of $1.5 billion in 2018, $900 million in 2019, and $1 billion in 2020. 

Due to the highly competitive nature of the program and the large number of anticipated applications, the Office of the Secretary (OST) sought the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s expertise and support. 

The Volpe Center assists OST in the project selection process by rigorously evaluating the technical merit, cost-effectiveness, and readiness of submitted proposals. In this way, Volpe Center staff help ensure that the selected projects meet the goals of the BUILD program and will yield societal benefits.

Illustration depicting multiple modes of transportation undergoing construction and improvements, including rail, freight, and roadways.
BUILD grants awarded in 2020 will fund up to $1 billion for 70 critical transportation infrastructure projects in 44 states. (BUILD graphic)

In May 2020, Volpe Center staff received training from OST staff to conduct technical reviews, benefit cost analysis, and readiness reviews to prepare for this effort. Approximately 75 Volpe Center staff from various divisions and all four technical centers conducted technical reviews and economic analyses, and evaluated project readiness over a two-month period. 

The technical review team finished reviewing all 660 applications in seven weeks, while benefit-cost and readiness reviews continued on for several more weeks, focused on evaluating highly recommended projects that emerged from the technical review phase. 

Volpe Center staff worked in multidisciplinary teams to conduct technical reviews of submitted projects, assessing applicants’ alignment with overall BUILD program merit criteria. 

Volpe Center economists reviewed applicants’ benefit-cost analyses, verifying the information provided and correcting methodological errors, while Volpe Center environmental specialists reviewed project readiness levels with respect to environmental requirements.

A section of dirt road in Tonto Basin near Old State Highway 188 is under water.
One of the 70 projects awarded for 2020 replaces an at-grade dirt road with a bridge in Tonto Basin, AZ. Due to high water, the at-grade roads crossing Tonto Creek are closed an average of 25 days each year, and the nearest detour adds ~71 miles. (BUILD photo)

The BUILD grant awards for 2020, which will provide up to $1 billion in funding for the development of critical transportation infrastructure to states across the U.S., were announced by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in mid-September. 

The 70 projects in 44 states support a variety of urban, rural, and planning projects that will make transportation safer and more efficient, including new and expanded roads, bridges, transit systems, freight hubs, and bicycle/pedestrian facilities. 

The Volpe Center’s review helped inform OST’s surface transportation discretionary grant awards to projects that both advance U.S. DOT’s priorities and serve local surface transportation needs. 

Additional Volpe Center staff provide assistance to states throughout the grant lifecycle on rail projects, from applications to pre-award obligation to project oversight support, documenting, tracking, and reporting on all grantee projects through the Federal Railroad Administration’s program management software. 

This collective work across the Center helps ensure these projects meet BUILD program goals of improving access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation and infrastructure for all. 

To learn more about the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s work in this area, please contact Sean Peirce in our Economic Analysis Division or Cynthia Maloney, chief of our Systems Safety and Engineering Division.

Visit the BUILD 2020 website for more information about the BUILD grants FY 2020 awards.