The TIGER is in danger of being permanently benched
The White House’s budget blueprint, which was released in March, and the House Appropriations Committee’s proposed fiscal year 2018 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development funding bill have a common theme in that both are clear in saying it is time to say goodbye to the tiger. Make that TIGER actually the acronym for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recover discretionary grant program.
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The White House’s budget blueprint, which was released in March, and the House Appropriations Committee’s proposed fiscal year 2018 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development funding bill have a common theme in that both are clear in saying it is time to say goodbye to the tiger.
Make that TIGER actually the acronym for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recover discretionary grant program. The objective of the TIGER program is to ensure that economic funding is rapidly made available for transportation infrastructure projects and that project spending is monitored and transparent. Since 2009, the TIGER grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and tribal communities. These federal funds leverage money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies. DOT noted that the 2016 TIGER round alone is leveraging nearly $500 million in federal investment to support $1.74 billion in overall transportation investments.
By cutting TIGER grants, the White House budget proposal, as previously reported, would save $499 million from the 2017 annualized CR level, according to the budget. And it added that the DOT’s National Significant Freight and Highway Projects grant program, which is authorized by the FAST Act, supports larger highway and multimodal freight projects with demonstrable national or regional benefits and is authorized at an annual average of $900 million through 2020.
And like the White House budget, TIGER is also absent from the $56.5 billion House Appropriations Committee bill. While TIGER is not included in the bill’s language, the bill allocates $54.5 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-aid highways program, which it said mirrors authorized levels and provides growth and improvements within America’s highway system.
To be sure, it is clear by these actions that TIGER perhaps was not the panacea Washington was looking in finding ways to fund infrastructure projects. But at the same time, one needs to take into account the fragmented and fragile state of the country’s transportation network in terms of the lack of available funding, which is a common theme to be sure, coupled with the United States regularly not making the cut over all, as evidenced by failing, or close to it, grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
While it looks like TIGER funding may very well become extinct, that does not mean it was frowned upon by key transportation stakeholders. Take DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, for example.
A March report in The Hill said that Chao expressed support for the TIGER Grants and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program during her confirmation hearing, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in the report that the TIGER grants are essential to rehabbing U.S. infrastructure.
A Washington-based transportation infrastructure policy expert told LM earlier this year that one of the unique aspects of the TIGER program is that it – unlike existing discretionary and formula funding at DOT – allows local governments to compete on an equal footing with states for critical infrastructure projects. And it also allows various government entities partner (e.g., multiple states, communities and/or regions) to fund regionally and nationally significant projects in a way that had never been done before and also allocates specified amounts for rural and tribal projects.
“All of these attributes have made the TIGER program extremely popular with members of Congress,” she said. “The elimination of this program would return DOT and the States to the former, rigid funding structure that jeopardizes innovative transportation projects that build for the future.”
The Coalition of America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) called the removal of TIGER a very damaging cut in the DOT budget.
CAGTC Executive Director Leslie Blakey said earlier this year that ““Discretionary competitive grants like TIGER are one of the most effective tools we have for leveraging federal dollars for infrastructure projects. Research has shown that by advantaging proposals that present an innovative finance package for a project, we create an incentive for project sponsors to reduce their dependence on federal funding and encourage more use of private capital as funding partners.”
CAGTC added that TIGER and the National Significant Freight and Highway Projects grant program are not interchangeable in that the latter was developed with a freight-focused investment criteria and TIGER addresses “a multitude of mobility issues,” including freight, mixed-use infrastructure, and transit, with only 26 percent of Fiscal Year 2016 TIGER funding allocated for projects with a strong freight component.
While TIGER may not be perfect, it has provided value in the form of funding key transportation-related projects, and while not all were freight-focused, they did make a difference.
At a time when there is a lot of talk coming out of Washington about the need for increased infrastructure development, funding remains an issue, and many things remain the same all while Congress and the White House talk a good game but mostly sit tight on the sidelines.
Clearly, it is time to change the playbook, before time runs off the clock.
About the AuthorJeff Berman, Group News Editor Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman
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