Madison County is moving forward with efforts to secure federal aid in constructing the Reunion Interchange project.
Butler Snow attorney Tommy Cardin, who was hired by the board of supervisors to lobby on the county’s behalf, presented an update to the board last week on where they stand in applying for a federal BUILD grant.
On February 18, Cardin, along with Carl Ray Furr and Joe Waggoner, went to Washington D.C. to meet with the head of the BUILD grant program for the Federal Highway Administration.
Cardin told the board that the Federal Highway Administration plays an integral role in the criteria and guidelines for BUILD grants. They were offered advice on how to move forward in the application process to make the county’s application stand out.
“The purpose of the meeting was to get a debriefing, just a download on the application process last year and where the application ended up and what some of the points were that we needed to look at for the application process this year,” Cardin said.
First, they discussed the timeline. The deadline to submit applications for a BUILD grant is May 18, and awards will likely be distributed mid-September.
“We were encouraged to file the application earlier if possible,” Cardin said. “The lifespan of the BUILD grant itself will be 2023.”
Last year, 660 applications were submitted, and 55 awards were granted.
“There is an evaluation team that goes through and does the technical evaluation and looks at the technical parts of the application focusing on the primary criteria,” Cardin said. “The evaluation team then breaks those down into categories. There is a highly recommended, recommended, acceptable or not acceptable.”
After applications are sorted into one of those categories, Cardin said applications that are approved at that point move into a “tier two” evaluation.
Last year, approximately 200 applications that made it to the second-tier evaluation.
“Our application fell in the recommended category but did not make it to the second round of evaluation,” Cardin said. “Of those that made it to tier two, 55 were awarded. Once you get to the tier two evaluation, that’s when the benefit to cost ratio comes into play.”
As part of the application for the BUILD grant, those applying must submit a benefit/cost ratio for the project. Cardin said an independent team of economists are hired to determine a benefit/cost ration and compare it to the one that was submitted to them.
“Then a confidence rating is assigned to the application, then the applications go up to the Secretary of Transportation,” he said. “Once the applications go there, a final decision is made on what the awards will be.”
Some of the positive feedback they received for Madison County’s application last year was for some safety features that were noted, such as the reduction of travel times, the access to new areas and the reduction of wear and tear on some of the roadways.
As for ways to improve the application this go-round, some enhancements were suggested.
“They encouraged us to try and provide as many specific statistics as we could in terms of the data with regard to the traffic count on the highways that are going to be affected, the number of accidents, the travel time that takes place and the reduction of travel time and what that would result in,” Cardin said.
They were encouraged to provide as much concrete data as possible to support the assertions that the Reunion Interchange project will improve safety and economic competitiveness.