WASHINGTON — Port and freight rail projects got a larger share of the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants this time around, but the future of the politically contentious program is uncertain.
About $148 million, or 31 percent, of the $474 million in grants through Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program will go toward 18 ports and freight rail projects this year. A fifth, or about $104 million, of the $511 million awarded last year went toward ports and freight rail projects.
The latest round of grants, the fifth, will support more than $410 million in freight project investment. The remaining $326 million in TIGER funding this year goes toward roads, highways, non-rail bridges, public transit, passenger rail, bicycle lanes and walking trails projects.
“TIGER has helped large multimodal projects get off the ground that would otherwise struggle to find funding,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a Thursday media conference call. “TIGER has made significant noise across America in a good way improving and repairing critical roads and bridges and relieving freight chokepoints.”
Foxx didn’t say much about the future of TIGER grant funding, except that the grants were critical to making the nation globally competitive in freight movement. By stressing the importance of the funding to states and communities, he appeared to put the onus on mayors and governors to lobby for the continuation of the program.
The Senate wants to increase TIGER funding by $51 million in fiscal 2014 to $550 million, but the House has scrapped funding for the program in their budget proposal. Some Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, accuse the Obama administration of using the program to reward Democratic lawmakers. The Senate has historically gotten its way when the two chambers conference, but the next wave of sequestration could tip the balance.
“There are no Democratic roads and Republican bridges. We can put politics aside and deliver what Americans are demanding, a transportation system that is the envy of the world,” Foxx said.
The major freight project awards include grants to the Port of Baltimore, the Port of Wilmington, and the Port of Tucson, among others.