A series of fierce contests for federal transportation dollars is starting to reshape how funds for rail, transit and other projects are distributed. So far this year, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded nearly $10.6 billion successful bidders and is expected to announce soon winners of $2.9 billion more in funding. Cash-strapped state and local agencies are seeking far more aid than DOT has available.
Congress set criteria for some of the grants, but DOT decides who wins—to some observers, that’s the rub. Industry officials wonder whether DOT will seek to expand the use of such “discretionary” grants. Key congressional Republicans contend DOT has not been transparent enough about how it picks the winners.