TIGER by the tail
Transportation grants aren't just for roads anymore

By David Tanner
associate editor


Truckers have been hearing about a grant program called TIGER being carried out by the U.S. Department of Transportation, but not everyone knows what the program is, where the money comes from or where the money is going.

For starters, TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. The program was authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. ARRA was the $787 billion stimulus package that has been described as a huge success or complete failure depending on who you talk to.

The act equipped the DOT with a pot of money to dole out grants to states and local governments for infrastructure projects aimed at creating jobs. The money for TIGER grants comes from general Treasury funds and is not taken from the Highway Trust Fund.

The first round of TIGER grants, totaling $1.5 billion, was issued in February 2010. Rail and transit won big in that first round, but there were also a number of roadway and bridge projects.

In late October, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the next round of grants totaling $600 million. He dubbed the program TIGER II.

LaHood noted in a public outreach campaign that approximately 29 percent of the funds would go to roadway projects, while 26 percent was marked for transit, 20 percent for rail, 16 percent for ports, 5 percent for project planning, and 4 percent for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

A total of 75 TIGER II projects will receive funding in 40 states.

In addition to roads and bridges – including a notable bridge replacement on U.S. Route 1 linking New Hampshire and Maine – notable projects were full of  buzzwords like greenways, boulevards, neighborhoods, plazas, preservation and crossings.

The largest single project in TIGER II was for streetcars in Atlanta. The DOT is granting the city $47.7 million, or about 66 percent of the $72 million price tag.

States and localities had to get in line for TIGER funds, with the DOT making the final decisions. LaHood noted that more than 1,000 applications were received. Had they all been funded, the price tag would have totaled $19 billion, which he said spoke to the demand for such projects.

Because Congress and the White House are currently operating without a clear vision for the next long-term transportation authorization program – known as a highway bill – states and localities are forced to stand in line for discretionary funding.

OOIDA and other groups that represent highway users are calling for Congress and the White House to knuckle down and approve a full six-year authorization bill.

Stimulus funds are not enough for states and localities to set their priorities for the coming years, says Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA.

“The Recovery Act has invested in our nation’s infrastructure, maybe not to the extent the president and certainly highway users and truckers would have hoped. Nonetheless, an investment is being made,” Joyce said.

“Would we have liked to have seen more money go to highways and bridges, and expanding capacity of this critical infrastructure? Yes. But some projects announced through both TIGER and TIGER II grants may be worthwhile in eliminating congestion at freight facilities.

“TIGER II has some focus port facilities … and representing truckers, we can appreciate that investment. But what we really need is a six-year highway authorization bill that focuses on expanding highway capacity and freight mobility.” LL