Office of Rail Transportation

LIFTS Program

Linking Iowas Freight Transportation System (LIFTS) Program Guidelines

 

Almost every product that you use, consume or that is grown or manufactured navigates a global, multimodal, interconnected freight transportation system. Yet traditional funding sources for modes other than highways, as well as the links connecting the various modes, are limited or underfunded. The LIFTS program is a grant funding opportunity to improve Iowa’s freight transportation system and will focus on projects not typically funded through highway funding programs.

The LIFTS program seeks to address the gaps in multimodal funding to assist in bolstering the freight transportation system - be that by truck, train, barge, airplane, or multiple modes. Products grown or made in Iowa take a journey on multiple modes of transportation around the United States and the world. Efficient, diverse, and cost effective freight transportation is critical to the health of Iowa’s businesses, communities, and economy.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015  expands the eligibility to include multimodal freight projects for federal transportation funding through the establishment of a National Highway Freight Program (NHFP). Up 10 percent of Iowa’s NHFP apportionment may be used on freight intermodal or freight rail projects. The Iowa Transportation Commission has chosen to award this funding through the administration of LIFTS, a competitive grant application program. The program will award $2.6 million in this funding cycle with an annual apportionment of $1.3 million available annually thereafter.

Program Overview

Purpose

The purpose of the LIFTS program is to provide grants for projects that help meet the changing demands of Iowa’s multimodal freight system. The program will provide funding for freight projects that have economic and public benefit by enhancing the shipment of freight but are typically ineligible for state or federal highway funding. The funding program is designed to:

  1. Enhance economic development by improving the multimodal freight transportation system.
  2. Provide flexible funding for the changing demands of the freight transportation system.
  3. Enhance the ability to provide competitive transportation options for shipment of products and moving goods.
  4. Provide incentives to alternate modes for economic development opportunities.

Requirements

The FAST Act requires that projects funded by the LIFTS program must be carried out under the same rules and procedures as a highway project on a federal-aid highway. These rules are available to successful applicants through the Federal-Aid Project Development Guide For Local Public Agencies as well as through Iowa DOT's Instructional Memorandums to Local Public Agencies. The guide and instructional memorandums have been written to assist local public agencies with the development of federal-aid highway projects. LIFTS grant recipients should consider themselves as a local public agencies when reading this documentation. Iowa DOT staff will work closely with grant recipients to provide assistance in understanding and completing the federal-aid requirements.

Unlike the initial LIFTS funding in 2016 or the Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant Program, this round of LIFTS funding is capitalized with federal funds that come with a more extensive list of requirements for the use and administration of any granted funds. Carefully read Appendix A, Federal Requirements, Standards, or Guidelines that briefly explains the primary conditions and requirements. Appendix A is also included in in Iowa DOT's Form 291322, the LIFTS Program Preapplication. If unable or unwilling to abide by these conditions and requirements, do not submit an application

Eligible Projects

The LIFTS program is not limited to a particular mode of transportation, but is designed to assist freight rail or intermodal projects that contribute to effective and efficient multimodal freight transportation. LIFTS projects are not limited to rail infrastructure, nor is LIFTS designed to assist projects that can be funded under traditional highway programs, such as highway construction, reconstruction or modifications. Any project described in 23 U.S.C. 167 (i)(5)(B) and determined by Iowa DOT to be eligible for funding and consistent with the purpose of the LIFTS program will be considered. Examples of the type of projects that could benefit the freight transportation system include, but are not limited to:

  • Infrastructure and operational improvements relating to improving system performance
  • Efforts that reduce the environmental impacts of freight movement
  • Infrastructure resiliency and security enhancements
  • Real-time transportation information systems
  • Electronic screening, credentialing, and security technologies
  • Modernization, upgrading, expansion or reconstruction of existing and new freight transportation facilities that support direct freight interchange between modes.
  • Modernization, upgrading, expansion or construction of existing and new freight modal links, including but not limited to air freight facilities, barge terminal facilities, intermodal facilities, transload locations, cross docks, or similar facilities

Program Administration

Eligible Applicants

A transportation provider, transportation user, city, county, or any other entity with an interest in a freight transportation improvement is eligible to apply for funding. Joint applications and public/private partnerships are allowed and encouraged, but the applicants shall designate one contact person. The applicant or joint applicants shall be responsible for the project development and financial obligations stated in the application.

Required Match

Applicants must provide a local match for the proposed project that may include cash, noncash or approved state fund contributions. The minimum amount of matching funds required of a public entity or a public/private partnership is 20 percent; private entities must provide a 50 percent match if not partnering with a public agency. Any non-cash match must be certified to the Iowa DOT before the cost is incurred. The Iowa DOT will retain the sole authority to determine the eligibility and value of a non-cash contribution.

Reimbursable Costs

The LIFTS program is a part of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. Grant funds are dispersed on a reimbursement basis. This means project sponsors must incur project costs and then submit periodic claims for reimbursement.

Only after a project has been approved by the Iowa Transportation Commission and the Federal Highway Administration division office, are costs eligible for reimbursement. Any costs incurred before FHWA's division office project approval are not eligible for reimbursement. Unlike the Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant Program, no advance eligibility exemption will be issued that allows an “early start” for reimbursable expenses.

If awarded a grant, paid invoices with sufficient documentation to show that the project costs have been paid for completed work will be submitted to the Iowa DOT. Upon approval, a reimbursement up to the percentage of the match will be made. For example, a private company providing a 50 percent match that submits a bill for $10,000 would be reimbursed $5,000 (50 percent). A public entity providing an 80 percent match would be reimbursed $8,000 (80%) of the $10,000. In addition, a small portion of the reimbursable amounts will be withheld by the Iowa DOT until project completion.

Eligible Costs

Prior to incurring any costs intended to be credited toward the non-federal share of eligible project costs (including any non-cash match), the project funding agreement must be executed and authorization by the FHWA must be obtained. Activities or items eligible for reimbursement include:

  • Development phase activities, including planning, feasibility analysis, revenue forecasting, environmental review, preliminary engineering and design work, and other preconstruction activities
  • Construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation
  • Acquisition of real property (including land relating to the project and improvements to land
  • Acquisition of equipment that facilitates direct intermodal interchange, transfer, or access into or out of the facility.
  • Operational improvements directly relating to improving system performance.

Ineligible Costs

Activities or items ineligible for reimbursement include, but are not limited to:

  • Any costs incurred prior to FHWA's authorization.
  • Capital or operating costs associated with public transit, including commuter rail.
  • Capital or operating costs associated with passenger rail.
  • Contract administration.
  • Refinancing of a completed project that would have otherwise qualified under this program.
  • Rolling stock.
  • Highway-railroad crossing safety or surface improvements unless an integral part of a larger construction project awarded under this program.

Applying for LIFTS

Webinar

The Iowa DOT hosted a webinar on Oct, 26, 2017 to provide a program overview, information on how to apply, and additional information.

The webinar was recorded.

Preapplication

Submittal of a preapplication that includes an environmental/cultural worksheet is required in order to be eligible to apply for funding under the LIFTS program.  Preapplication shall be submitted no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 17, 2017.

Upon receipt of the preapplication documents, the project will be evaluated by the Iowa DOT. The federal funding for this project requires compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that considers the environmental and cultural effects of a project including the consultation required by the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Iowa DOT will provide the potential applicant with preliminary information about what may be needed to meet the NEPA requirements and potential obstacles the proposed project may encounter in seeking NEPA compliance.  The feedback on the preapplication will provide preliminary information on efforts that may be needed to comply with NEPA.  Applicants should be aware that additional costs and/or efforts to comply with NEPA may be required.  Costs for consultant-led surveys, studies, etc. that may be required for NEPA compliance are eligible for reimbursement IF included in your application budget.

Feedback on the eligibility of the project and environmental/cultural concerns based on information in the preapplication can be expected to be received by the project sponsor on or before January 26, 2018

The preapplication form, complete with appendix A & B can be found at www.iowadot.gov/forms by searching for name or number or at the following link

Linking Iowa's Freight Transportation System (LIFTS) Preapplication (Form 291322)

Completed preapplications can be mailed to the address listed below or e-mailed to laura.hutzell@iowadot.us. Preapplications must be postmarked or emailed by 5:00 p.m. Nov. 17, 2017.  

Attn: Laura Hutzell
Office of Rail Transportation
Iowa Department of Transportation
800 Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50010

Application

Only applications for projects that have submitted a completed preapplication by the deadline above will be considered for funding.  Applications must clearly describe the proposed project and articulate the freight, economic and public benefits, quantifying those benefits wherever possible. Not all questions need be answered if they are not applicable to the particular project. Applicants are encouraged to succinctly and clearly answer the applicable questions in order to provide a comprehensive description of the project and its benefits. Elaborate or excessively lengthy applications are not necessary or desired.

All applicants must submit a Minority Impact Statement (Iowa DOT Form 10501) along with their application, as well as all of the required attachments listed within the application. 

The required forms are available online at www.iowadot.gov/forms by searching for form name or number

Completed applications can be mailed to the address listed below or e-mailed to laura.hutzell@iowadot.us. Applications must be postmarked or emailed by 5:00 p.m.  March 2, 2018.

Attn: Laura Hutzell
Office of Rail Transportation
Iowa Department of Transportation
800 Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50010

Evaluation

A multi-disciplinary team of Iowa DOT staff will evaluate the applications.  Simultaneously, applications will be provided to selected members of the Iowa Freight Advisory Council for their input. Sections 4 through 8 of the Linking Iowa's Freight Transportation System (LIFTS) Project Application (Iowa DOT Form 291320) include specific questions related to the evaluation criteria. Applications will be evaluated on the merits of the submitted application with emphasis on the following criteria:

  • Freight mobility benefits (25 percent) The project applicant must document how the proposed project will increase freight mobility through elimination of an impediment, improvement in efficiency and/or improvement of the reliability or resiliency of freight transportation in contrast to the current status freight mobility.  (Section 4 of the application)
  • Economic benefits (25 percent) The project applicant must document how the proposed project will impact the economy (local, regional, or national), provide cost savings to shippers/public/other beneficiaries, or improve/add a connection to a freight generator to demonstrate a positive economic benefit in contrast to the current economic state.  (Section 5 of the application)
  • Public benefits (20 percent) The project applicant must document how the proposed project will benefit other transportation users, provide environmental benefits, enhance the quality of life or improve safety to demonstrate that federal funding will benefit others in addition to the applicant. (Section 6 of the application.)
  • Project readiness (20 percent) The project applicant must realistically document the estimated project schedule and how prepared the project is to begin.  Two years of funding is available in this round of funding, with obligation deadlines (when a project must be let and any contracts awarded and equipment purchased) one year apart. Consequently, priority will be applied based on the applicants' ability to meet obligation deadlines.  See the schedule below for more information. (Section 7 of the application.)
  • Innovation/Process improvement (10 percent) The project applicant must document if any creative or original solutions are incorporated in the project and how any innovative/new technology or novel construction/project management processes will be used to demonstrate innovative approaches to a project. Additionally, the project applicant must document how the success of the project will be measured. (Section 8 of the application.) 
 

Additional information may be requested or site visits arranged by one or more members of the evaluation team if it is deemed beneficial to better understand the scope or intent of a project.  The evaluation team will make a recommendation for award(s) to the Iowa Transportation Commission.

Schedule

  • Preapplication due Nov. 17, 2017.
  • Comments on preapplication provided to potential applicants no later than Jan. 26, 2018.
  • Application due March 2, 2018. 
  • Iowa Transportation Commission approves projects for award by July 2018.
  • June 30, 2019:  Project has been let and any contracts awarded and equipment purchased for selected project(s) using the initial year's $1.3 million of available grant funds.
  • March 31, 2020:  Project has been let and any contracts awarded and equipment purchased for selected project(s) using the remaining grant funds.

Post Award Requirements

A project funding agreement will be prepared between the Iowa DOT and the project sponsor. The agreement shall specify the project's scope, the approved funding level, and other conditions for project funding.  As applicable, the agreement shall address responsibilities for project design, right-of-way acquisition, contracting, construction and materials inspection; documentation required for reimbursement of project costs; audit requirements; and maintenance of the completed project.

  • All agreements must be signed by the recipient within 60 days of receipt.
  • Award recipients shall abide by all requirements as a recipient of federal funding.  
  • Two years of funding will be awarded, with obligation deadlines (when a project must be let and any contracts awarded and equipment purchased) one year apart. If an obligation deadline is unmet, the funds allocated to Iowa by the federal government risk being rescinded. Consequently, grantees will be required to have these activities completed no later than June 30, 2019 or June 30, 2020 as specified in the project funding agreement.
  • Iowa DOT staff may revoke a funding commitment or seek repayment of funds already reimbursed if the applicant fails to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Questions/Program Documents

All questions about the program or application should be directed to Laura Hutzell, laura.hutzell@iowadot.us or 515-239-1066.

Links to program documents and resources

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