The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today unanimously approved the most substantial highway bill in history, called America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, which includes a new infrastructure funding program similar to legislation authored by Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
The bill establishes a new program—called PROTECT grants—that would provide $1 billion each year for competitive grants and $4 billion in formula funding for improving road and bridge infrastructure, and includes provisions from Senator Jones’ Be SAFE Act. Senator Jones introduced the Be SAFE Act in March in an effort to bring more federal dollars to Alabama to invest in life-saving evacuation routes and repair and improve roadways in the state’s small and rural communities.
“The new PROTECT grants could provide a much-needed source of federal revenue for the Mobile Bay Bridge, our aging rural roads, and other vital infrastructure projects across Alabama,” said Senator Jones, who has criticized recent Mobile Bay Bridge toll proposals and pledged to search for additional federal resources for the bridge. “Communities that receive these grants would not only benefit from federal investments to improve, replace, or build new roads, bridges, and evacuation routes—but they could also bring a huge economic boost. I’m proud that the committee built on a program that I introduced and I look forward to seeing all the ways it could benefit Alabama communities in the future.”
The PROTECT grants program includes two components that were priorities for Senator Jones in making sure the program serves Alabama’s small and rural communities:
- Funding for planning grants to help cash-strapped communities offset the high cost of technical assistance needed before they can even apply for actual infrastructure funding, which can sometimes cost as much as $40,000;
- A 25-percent set-aside for grants to rural communities with populations under 200,000, which Senator Jones negotiated with committee members. This will ensure that smaller Alabama communities won’t have to compete with larger cities in other states for the same funds.
There are three categories of PROTECT grants:
- Resilience Improvement Grants to improve or replace existing surface transportation infrastructure at risk from extreme weather events and natural disasters;
- Community Resiliency and Evacuation Routes to improve or establish roads for better and safer evacuation during severe weather events; and
- At-Risk Coastal Infrastructure Grants to strengthen, stabilize or elevate highways and bridges subject to long-term risk of natural disasters, storm surges, coastal erosion or coastal flooding.
This is the latest in a continued effort by Senator Jones to secure federal investments in Alabama’s infrastructure and to increase disaster preparedness across the state.
The bill will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.