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February 18, 2010

TIGER Transportation Grants - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This is a guest post by Jesse Prentice-Dunn of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign.

I doubt there was a drum roll or trumpet fanfare, but yesterday Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the long awaited recipients of 51 TIGER grants.

What is TIGER, you ask? In the economic recovery bill passed by Congress in February 2009, $1.5 billion was allocated for a competitive transportation grant program, named TIGER, with funding given to projects that have a significant long-term impact on a region and increase the sustainability and safety of our transportation system while making our communities more livable. Essentially the TIGER grant program is a competitive, performance-based method of funding transportation projects instead of the traditional earmark and formula-driven methods.

Over the last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) received nearly 1500 applications from all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia, requesting funding for projects totaling $59 billion – roughly 40 times the amount of funding available. Applications ran the gamut – from new highways to downtown transit projects to port improvements. With so many applications, DOT had the opportunity to either select a range of forward-looking projects or continue funding the same sprawl and congestion that has grown for decades.

The result? From a quick glance at the 51 projects announced today, the Department of Transportation has fulfilled the goal of the TIGER program, selecting projects that will help build the foundation of a more efficient transportation system that reduces global warming pollution.

The projects funded represent a range of modes that will increase transportation options – 26% transit, 25% rail, 23% roads and 8% ports. Some specific examples of funded projects include a bicycle and pedestrian network in Philadelphia, a New Orleans streetcar line connecting an Amtrak hub to local transit, and intermodal rail facilities in Memphis, TN, and Birmingham, AL, that will redirect freight from highways to more efficient rail. To see the full list of projects funded, visit the Department of Transportation website (PDF), and you can also see the various states' reactions via this Google News Search.

The bad? Fortunately there's very little to report in the way of the bad or the ugly. Road and bridge projects funded focus primarily on repair and maintenance instead of merely constructing new capacity. The few projects that build new capacity, such as a highway around Dallas, Texas, will include tolling and other congestion mitigation technology. Additionally, we were pleased that several projects that do not advance the goals laid out in TIGER were not selected, such as a proposed bridge over the wild and scenic St. Croix River in Minnesota, which our North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has fought for years.

In sum, the TIGER grants announced Wednesday show that there are innovative transportation solutions throughout the country that will help us create a greener, more efficient transportation system. Further, the 51 projects selected from a wide range of the good, the bad and the ugly are those that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lay the foundation for 21st century transportation.

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