The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has launched what surely will be a tough competition for the second round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants to help fund projects that aim to produce major regional or national transportation benefits. DOT has $600 million in fiscal 2010 appropriations for the new batch of grants.

Demand was huge for the $1.5- billion first TIGER round, which was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That initial group of grants, whose winners were announced on Feb. 17, drew more than 1,400 proposals totaling about $60 billion.

DOT’s funding-availability notice, published in the April 26 Federal Register, says pre-applications for what it dubs “TIGER II” grants are due by July 16. Final applications are due by Aug. 23.

The new TIGER round has some key changes from the first one. TIGER II applicants must contribute at least 20% of a project’s cost. (No non-federal matching funds were required in the first TIGER round, although ARRA gave a priority to projects for which the federal money would “complete an overall financial package.”)

In addition, Congress directed that at least $140 million of the TIGER II grants be earmarked for projects in rural areas. There was no rural set-aside in round one.

Some of the TIGER II money can fund proposals to carry out planning, and DOT intends to evaluate those planning-grant applications jointly with the Housing and Urban Development Dept. Up to $35 million of DOT’s $600 million for TIGER II can be used for planning. HUD has a separate, $40-million appropriation for Community Challenge Planning Grants.