The U.S. freight infrastructure network is getting another infusion of federal money for construction work, after the Department of Transportation awarded more than half its $600 million in “TIGER II” grants to freight projects.
Industry groups, states and transport firms had competed for that money with a deluge of more than 1,000 applications from all 50 states, with requests topping $19 billion.
That continued the pattern of the first DOT discretionary grants. Last year’s stimulus law provided the DOT with $1.5 billion to give to projects of special significance, and the department set up a program called Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER.
Demand for the initial federal money far exceeded supply, and some lawmakers angrily complained to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other DOT officials when their states’ projects lost out. But Congress also liked the approach enough to put $600 million into this year’s DOT budget for a second round.
When LaHood announced the TIGER II awards on Oct. 20, it was quickly clear the freight sector was the big winner. The DOT will spread nearly $585 million among 42 capital construction projects and 33 more in the planning stage, keeping about $15 million to cover administrative costs.
The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, a Washington, D.C.-based group representing more than 60 freight interests nationwide, counted up $316 million in “projects with a strong freight component,” including three out of the five largest grants. Of the capital projects, 14 specifically target freight improvements, the coalition said, while eight more have a specific freight component. “These commerce-moving projects create jobs and other benefits up and down the supply chain, and are vital to the U.S. economy,” CAGTC Executive Director Leslie Blakey said.
Among the projects to win federal aid was an on-dock rail project in Los Angeles, a marine highway terminal in Florida, a project to reopen a closed commodity-hauling railroad at Coos Bay, Ore., and upgrades to an ailing state-owned short line in South Dakota’s grain country to haul more cargo and connect with three major railroads.
Other projects target access roads to cargo terminals, replacing low-capacity bridges, an intermodal terminal at the Port of Miami (story, page 32) and untangling a high-density set of freight rail connections at Fort Worth, Texas.
The DOT decided some of the awards in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make sure transportation planning works well with local community needs. The result is some TIGER II grants for transit, bicycle and walking paths that often indirectly help freight operations by reducing road congestion or separating heavy vehicle traffic from residential lanes.
LaHood said the awards are for innovative projects “that will change the U.S. transportation landscape by strengthening the economy and creating jobs, reducing gridlock and providing safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable transportation choices.”
For ports, TIGER II’s $95 million in grants was a step up. The first TIGER awards gave ports only 8 percent of the money, prompting complaints from Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities. He told LaHood ports should be an equal partner in transportation with highway, rail and transit systems, and should get 25 percent of available grant funds.
This time, the AAPA said seven of the 42 new construction grants went to ports, representing 17 percent of capital project money. “We applaud this recognition of the critical role our nation’s ports play, and the increased funding in TIGER II,” Nagle said.
Now that the Obama administration has gone through two rounds of TIGER grants, transport interests wonder what will come next. LaHood said the Senate and House approved some version of TIGER III for 2011, but have not reconciled their numbers. And Obama wants Congress to set up a permanent transportation infrastructure bank to dispense grants, loans and credit guarantees.
The industry sectors already are staking their claims. Nagle said although ports were glad to see “a significantly larger portion of the funding” in TIGER II, “we are hopeful that share will reach 25 percent or above in the next round.”
The AAPA is urging lawmakers “to provide additional TIGER funding in fiscal 2011 appropriations,” he said, “and we believe this type of program should be a part of the overdue surface transportation reauthorization.”
Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.