Although it is still to be determined how much funding trickles down to Houston from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden Nov. 15, city officials are looking to be prepared for when new competitive grant programs open up and start taking applications.

Almost half of that funding, about $524 billion, will go toward new transportation, utilities and pollution control projects. The city of Houston is in position to bring in grants from a number of programs, said Susan Lent, an advisor to the city with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

"This is an opportunity for the city of Houston to begin planning now to identify the opportunities that it wants to pursue so that it can communicate its priorities to federal department agencies and members of Congress," Lent told members of the city's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure committee at a Dec. 2 meeting.

Allocations in the bill either came in the form of more money for existing programs—such as state loan programs for clean drinking water and transportation dollars distributed by the Texas Department of Transportation—or money put into new programs, including a Projects of National Significance Program that allows recipients to enter into multiyear grant agreements, Lent said.

When it comes to transportation in particular, many of the new programs give cities the chance to apply directly for funds, Lent said.

"Before this law .... probably 85%-90% of transportation dollars went out by formula to states," she said. "This law creates a large number of new federal grant programs where cities can apply directly."

Some of the programs Lent said Houston would be a good candidate for included a $1.4 billion competitive grant program for resilient infrastructure projects, designed to help cities prepare for weather events and sea level rise; a $250 million congestion relief program; and a new $3 billion Railroad Grade Crossing Elimination Program that also caught the attention of District H Council Member Karla Cisneros, who said existing crossings can block traffic and disrupt businesses on Houston's East End.

A $36 billion passenger rail program is focused on creating high-speed rail lines across the country. Construction could begin soon on a high-speed rail line connecting Houston to Dallas by the privately-owned company Texas Central. Lent said the IIJA program is only for governmental entities such as Amtrak, but she said there could be ways a government could receive funds and make a private entity such as Texas Central a subrecipient.

Two new programs totaling $7.5 billion are designed to encourage cities to develop electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging stations. Unlike many of the other programs in the law, these grants could fund public-private partnerships and could be used to cover both the cost of building infrastructure as well as operations costs, Lent said.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Grant will also get a boost in funding up to $1.5 billion, Lent said. These grants, which the city of Houston has been awarded before, help cities clean up and reuse contaminated properties.

In addition, a $5 billion Department of Energy grant program is focused on power grid reliability, Lent said, and is highly relevant to both the city of Houston and the state.

"It's focused on resiliency, getting directly at the situation that happened in Texas recently," Lent said, referring to Winter Storm Uri, when severe cold weather left millions of Texans without water, heat and power for days in February.

Beyond that, $7.5 billion will be made available through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, which Lent said is more broad in terms of what is allowed to be funded. Eligible projects include road, bridge, public transit and port projects, and projects to prevent storm water runoff. The city of Houston has also used the program in the past to fund hike and bike infrastructure.

Lent said IIJA funding is more likely to go out quickly for programs that already exist. New programs will take longer, since it will take time to establish processes and rules for how money should be awarded, she said. However, she said she expected the overall process to be fast.

"With midterm elections coming up, I think President Biden will really want to show progress, and so I think it will move with some speed," she said.