The U.S. Dept. of Transportation awarded $1.5 billion in grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to 51 projects in 41 states and the District of Columbia on Feb. 17, underscoring the Obama administration’s transportation priorities.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funds, known as TIGER grants, target projects that USDOT identified as being “major national and regional transportation projects that are in many cases difficult to pursue through other government funding programs.”

Although a mix of transportation modes received grants that range from $3.15 million to $105 million, freight-rail and transit projects received the largest individual grants. Unlike the $27.5 billion in ARRA funds that were provided for state DOTs to distribute, USDOT selected these “in-house” projects from more than 1,400 applications.

“There are megaprojects that need an added push that would be more difficult for states to finance on their own,” said Brian Deery, senior director of the highway and transportation division of Associated General Contractors of America. The Obama administration wants to offer similar grants through USDOT in the coming years. The proposed fiscal 2011 budget requests $4 billion to launch the National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund, which could transfer $2.6 billion in grants within the first year.

Two multistate freight projects got a boost from the TIGER program. The Crescent Corridor Intermodal Freight Rail project received $105 million, which will be split between a new intermodal terminal facility in Rossville, Tenn., and one near Birmingham, Ala. Both could be ready to break ground this summer, according to Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern spokesman.

The National Gateway Freight Rail Corridor was awarded $98 million for double-stack clearance projects along CSX rail lines in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Illinois received $100 million in TIGER grants for six projects, and in New York, an $83-million grant is expected to jump-start the long-delayed Moynihan Station, which would improve New York City’s Penn Station.