The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded $487.1 million to 41 highway, bridge, rail and other projects—a majority of them in rural areas—in the latest round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. (View summaries of winning projects here.)
The Trump administration proposed zeroing out funds for TIGER in fiscal 2018, but an industry source says Congress is likely to reject the proposal when a 2018 omnibus spending package emerges, perhaps in late March.
Congress directed that at least 20% of the total TIGER dollars go to projects in rural areas. In releasing the complete list of the new TIGER winners on March 9, DOT said that more than 64% of the dollars in this round went to rural projects. ENR counts 27 rural projects and one combination rural-urban project—rail bridge repairs in Fort Smith, Ark.—among the 41 winners.
Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, says the 64% is the highest share for rural projects since TIGER was launched in 2009.
Davis also calculated that highway projects account for 77% of the new TIGER round's total dollars. Maritime was next, with 9%, followed by freight rail at 7%, transit with 4% and passenger rail at 3%.
TIGER dollars typically constitute one piece of the financing for projects that apply, and are combined with state and local government and private grants and other sources.
Three projects in the new round received $25 million in TIGER grants, the maximum Congress set: a $134-million plan, including flyovers, to separate trucks from other traffic on State Route 189 in southern Arizona; the $288-million Lincoln, Neb., South Beltway; and a $80-million,1.6-mile section of Northstar Boulevard in northern Virginia's Loudoun County.
TIGER continues to be exceptionally popular among states, localities and other agencies. The latest round of the program—the ninth since it was established in 2009—drew about 450 applications, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao said in a Feb. 28 speech.
As in past years, DOT this year gave advance notification of grant winners to senators and House members from states and localities in which projects are located. Some of those lawmakers, from both parties, announced the decisions in the days before DOT released its full list.
The program has prominent fans on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the DOT budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $550 million for the program and said it "continues to believe that the … program is integral to the economic success of communities throughout the country."
On the other hand, the House Appropriations Committee provided no money for TIGER in its version of the 2018 DOT spending bill.
The industry source says, "I'm very optimistic that Congress will include at least $500 million in the FY '18 omnibus." The official adds that even before the Trump administration, the House regularly tended to zero out TIGER or approve limited amounts for it and the program ended up being funded. The source says, "The House knows that this is a popular Senate program and uses this as an opportunity to leverage and get something from the Senate that they want."