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U.S. DOT Releases Rules for ‘TIGER II’ Grants, Bringing HUD on Board

The U.S. DOT today released its first round of guidance for the
so-called "TIGER II" program, a $600 million pot of competitive
transportation grants considered a quasi-sequel to the popular $1.5
billion merit-based fund included in last year's stimulus law.

ibmribboncutting.jpgA ribbon-cutting in Dubuque, Iowa, where a broad revamping of downtown development won TIGER grant money. (Photo: Gazette)

the biggest news in today's announcement was the U.S. DOT's intention
to marry its decision-making on the new TIGER-esque grants with the
process for allocating $40 million in land-use aid at the Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If the two agencies can sustain
that goal past the period of public comment on the new grants that
begins this week, their move would take the cooperative ethos that has
defined the Obama administration's sustainable communities effort to the next level.

its preliminary TIGER II guidance, published in today's Federal
Register, the U.S. DOT wrote that officially linking its grant
decision-making with HUD's would ideally "encourage and reward more
holistic planning efforts and result in better projects being built
with federal dollars" by recognizing the inextricable connection
between transportation and local planning.

The U.S. DOT's
criteria for choosing TIGER II winners differ in several notable
respects from those for the original program. At least $140 million of
the new grants are required to go to rural areas, and localities
selected to receive federal funding would need to provide a 20 percent match -- a requirement that had been waived for the original TIGER competition in view of the economic downturn.

The element of urgency that defined TIGER bids is also easing up for the new round of transport grants.

the stimulus restricted the U.S. DOT to picking TIGER proposals that
could be completed by spring 2012, no such limit exists for the second
incarnation of the program. The original rules for TIGER applicants
also emphasized projects' ability to drive short-term job creation;
while local economic benefits are considered a primary metric for the
new $600 million in grants, the U.S. DOT wrote that applicants "will
need to be competitive on the merits of the medium to long-term
impacts" of their TIGER II pitches.

The secondary metrics for
TIGER II bids are innovation and partnership, with the latter referring
to proposals' emphasis on collaboration among local governmental bodies
to implement the projects in question.

Grant applicants are
expected to measure the anticipated upsides of their transportation
visions as specifically as possible, but the U.S. DOT guidance also
acknowledged the expensive nature and inherent limitations of
cost-benefit analysis -- which became a major factor in its January decision to de-emphasize "cost-effectiveness" calculations for federally funded transit construction. From today's release:

DOTcan consider some factors that do not readily lend themselves toquantification or monetization, including equitable geographicdistribution of grant funds and an appropriate balance in addressingthe needs of urban and rural areas and investment in a variety oftransportation modes ... DOT recognizes that some categories of costsand benefits are more difficult to quantify or monetize than others.

Public comments on the preliminary criteria for TIGER II and the HUD
planning grants will be accepted until May 7, with a final joint notice
by the U.S. DOT and HUD expected by the last week of May. Overall, the
process is expected to conclude with the naming of grant winners by
September 15.

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