The budget plan President Obama sent to Congress would sharply expand the Department of Transportation's discretionary grants program, which covers multi-modal construction projects, and would create a broad Transportation Trust Fund to manage a number of surface transportation programs.
The plan formally introduces a number of measures the president and his team have talked about for months, pairing an increase in surface transportation spending with an overhaul of how federal programs now operate. It would also lock into policy some permanent programs that began as short-term measures in the 2009 stimulus law.
For instance, Obama is asking Congress for $2 billion in the DOT's TIGER grants for the 2012 budget year that starts in October. That is up from $1.5 billion in the first year of that grant program from the 2009 stimulus, and $600 million Congress approved in the 2010 budget. The new, enlarged pool of grants from the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program would be part of $50 billion the president is seeking in initial infrastructure spending.
TIGER has a lot of supporters in the transportation industry, since it allows the DOT to spread money across projects that would not normally be eligible under existing programs, including some freight rail or port infrastructure work. But critics say it gives the DOT too much power over spending that traditionally was up to Congress to allocate.
Obama's idea of a Transportation Trust Fund would encompass and move beyond the more narrowly focused Highway Trust Fund, and would include transport programs now covered by general revenue as well as dedicated receipts such as motor fuel taxes. But the plan also envisions shrinking what are now 55 separate and sometimes duplicative surface transport programs into just five.
The president's budget also proposes to reclassify all surface transportation outlays as mandatory. And it calls for a new "livability grant program" of $4.1 billion in 2012 and $28 billion over six years through the Federal Highway Administration, to fund projects such as multi-modal transportation hubs, including those that link commuter rail with bus lines, and street construction that accommodates pedestrian, bicycle and transit use.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.