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US DOT Awards 72 TIGER Grants, But the Program Remains in Jeopardy

(Los Angeles editor's note: The L.A. Register reports that California was awarded six TIGER grants, including two for L.A. Metro to improve first/last mile connections to rail stations. The two Metro stations to receive TIGER-funded improvements are the existing Metro Blue/Green Line Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, and the under-construction Regional Connector line's Little Tokyo station at 1st and Central.)  

This afternoon, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will announce the latest round of TIGER grants awarding $600 million among 72 transportation projects in 46 states and the District of Columbia. You can see all TIGER grants to date or just the latest round -- TIGER VI -- in this map from Transportation for America.

Here are a few things to know about the state of the program:

Demand for these grants still far outstrips supply. U.S. DOT received 797 eligible applications this time, up from 585 in 2013, requesting 15 times the $600 million available for the program. TIGER fills a significant void in the federal transportation program -- it's one of the only ways cities, metro regions, and transit agencies can apply directly for federal funds, bypassing state DOTs. Plus, the emphasis on non-automotive modes and the availability of small grants make it a good fit for transit improvements and bike and pedestrian projects, which can't access other federal pots of money so easily.

27 percent of the total funding is going to transit projects. That includes...

    • $25 million for the construction of Richmond’s 7.6-mile Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit, which U.S DOT says “will connect transit-dependent residents to jobs and retail centers as well as spur mixed use and transit-oriented development in a city with the highest poverty rate in Virginia.”
    • $15 million for an Omaha BRT line along a corridor where 16 percent of households have no access to a vehicle.
    • $13 million and $12 million for streetcars in Providence and Detroit, respectively.

Meanwhile, planning projects got 5 percent of the funds, and five bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects received $56 million -- 9 percent of the total funding -- including $25 million for street safety projects in New York, one of the two largest individual grants. The other $25 million grant is for replacing the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge a rail bridge between Maine and New Hampshire.

Road projects got a sizable chunk too -- $221 million or 38 percent of the available funding. The biggest -- $20 million -- went to rebuilding a mile of Florida’s Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41/State Road 90, connecting Tampa to Miami) to bridge over the water and wildlife habitat of the Everglades. It presently runs through it, disrupting the water flow. Many of the road projects are multi-modal and include active transportation or complete streets components.

TIGER’s future is uncertain. No appropriations bill has become law yet for fiscal year 2015 (which starts in about two weeks), but the House Republicans’ proposal for the transportation budget included just $100 million for TIGER (an 83 percent cut). Even worse, they inserted language stating that TIGER grants must “address critical transportation needs” and no “non-essential purposes, such as street-scaping, or bike and pedestrian paths.” Also ineligible would be transit projects that would be eligible for New Starts or other FTA grants, carpool projects, ADA compliance for sidewalks, highway and transit safety improvements, planning, congestion mitigation, intelligent transportation systems, anything related to congestion pricing (including electric toll collection and travel demand management), or recreational trails.

Though that particular bill doesn’t seem likely to become law, that is what Republicans will be trying to get in future transportation negotiations. Clearly, they want to strangle TIGER.

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