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Public Roads - January/February 2017

January/February 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Hot Topic

Financing the Future

by Robert Ritter

Public funds used by State and local governments to build, operate, and maintain the national transportation network are under pressure. The current backlog of needed but unfunded investments in transportation infrastructure in the United States will be almost $1trillion by 2025. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act stabilizes longer term investment, but the funds it provides are insufficient.

Thankfully, an array of effective financing tools can provide agencies with options to help fill the deficit. Over the past two decades, through the authority provided by Congress, the Federal Highway Administration has introduced innovative financing techniques that can expand the capacity of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. These options may be complex and time-consuming to those encountering them for the first time, but FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation can help.

Centralized Assistance for Financing

The Center for Innovative Finance Support, one of four centers under FHWA’s new Office of Innovative Program Delivery, specializes in helping project sponsors identify the most appropriate methods for financing their highway projects, and then provides technical assistance to navigate the process.


Substantially completed in December 2016, the Ohio River Bridges Downtown Crossing in Louisville, KY, shown here, was financed using GARVEE bonds, toll revenue bonds, and a USDOT TIFIA loan.


“Maintaining a level of corporate knowledge of these tools can be difficult,” says Mark Sullivan, director of the center. “We hope to provide a consistent repository of research, training, and expertise that States can tap to finance projects.”

The center provides assistance with many highway financing options, including Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEEs), State infrastructure banks, tolling, and pricing, among others. “We don’t promote a specific approach,” explains Sullivan. “We work together with stakeholders to craft the approach that best fits their needs, and then walk them through all the way.”

“Just raise your hand and ask for help,” he says. “We can start wherever you are.”

Building Greater Support

Most requests to the center are referrals from either FHWA division offices, which work directly with State departments of transportation to deliver more than $40 billion annually nationwide, or USDOT’s new Build America Bureau. Created as a “one-stop shop” for project sponsors seeking credit opportunities or technical assistance with public-private partnerships, transit-oriented development, or environmental permitting, the bureau is responsible for driving large transportation infrastructure projects in the United States.

"If your project is large, multimodal, and may involve multiple financing tools, call the Build America Bureau."
— Jodie Misiak, Project Development Director

Mandated under the FAST Act, the bureau combines multiple loan, bond, grant, and public-private partnership programs under one roof. It focuses on large, complex, multimodal projects that may involve multiple jurisdictions and funding streams, a description that fits many of the most innovative highway projects. The bureau’s financing and funding tools include loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, private activity bonds, and the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grant program.

“Build America has a broad scope,” says Jodie Misiak, project development director for the bureau. “We handle projects that cut across modes and may combine multiple financing approaches. When we need highway expertise, we call FHWA’s Center for Innovative Finance Support.”

The goal is to connect project sponsors with the people who can assist them as quickly as possible. “We want them to get the most efficient help,” Misiak says. “That way projects aren’t sitting there waiting for answers. If your project is large, multimodal, and may involve multiple financing tools, call the bureau. If it is highway specific, call your division office. But either way, the Center for Innovative Finance Support might be asked to provide its expertise.”

“There are a lot of good projects out there,” says Sullivan. “Our job is to ensure they find the financing they need to make it off the drawing board.”

For more information about the Center for Innovative Finance Support, visit To learn more about the Build America Bureau, visit

Robert Ritter, P.E., is the new managing director of FHWA’s Office of Innovative Program Delivery.