The U.S. Department of Transportation says it has applied a “merit-based selection process” to award 42 capital construction projects and 33 planning projects in 40 states nearly $600 million from its popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II program, which covers major infrastructure projects like highways, bridges, ports, mass transit, and rail systems. Demand for this second round of financing was overwhelming: DOT received nearly 1,000 construction grant applications asking for more than $19 billion from all 50 states. According to DOT, almost 30 percent of new funds goes to road projects, 26 percent is alloted for transit, 20 percent is for rail projects, and 16 percent is for ports. Unfortunately, only four percent goes to improving walking and biking access bike and five percent is for sustainable transportation planning.
The DOT listed a few examples of construction projects that received funding:
- The City of Atlanta will get $47.6 million to create a new streetcar line that will connect important downtown sites in a network, facilitating non-car access in the core city.
- The New Hampshire Department of Transportation will receive $20 million to replace its deteriorating Memorial Bridge. “The bridge is at the end of its service life and has a bridge sufficiency rating of six out of 100.”
- $140 million is reserved for projects in rural areas.
- In addition, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority will receive a $546 million TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan to a new light rail ine connecting the city to the airport, which DOT describes as a major piece of “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 initiative to construct 12 major transit projects in 10 years rather than 30.”
For the planning grants, U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) joined forces to fund ”localized planning activities that ultimately lead to projects that integrate transportation, housing and urban development.” Some 700 applicants sought $35 million in TIGER II planning grants and $40 million HUD Sustainable Community Challenge grants (see earlier post). The new combined grant review process, which also involves the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is one result of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (see earlier post). New HUD funds will be used for “localized planning efforts, such as development around a transit stop and zone or building code updates and improvements,” says DOT.
DOT says the projects were selected based on the following criteria: “their ability to contribute to the long-term economic competitiveness of the nation, improve the condition of existing transportation facilities and systems, increase energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve the safety of U.S. transportation facilities and/or enhance the quality of living and working environments of communities through increased transportation choices and connections. The Department also gave priority to projects that are expected to create and preserve jobs quickly and stimulate rapid increases in economic activity.”
While TIGER II has proven extremely popular, President Obama has also recently called for a ”fundamental overhaul” of how infrastructure is funded and $50 billion to “renew American’s roads, railways, and runways.” According to The New York Times, his plan includes a new “infrastructure bank,” which would take transportation funding decisions out of the hands of Congress and give them to a panel that could make “merit-based” decisions about financing. The new infrastructure bank would “pool tax dollars with private investment.”
Already, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, and Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, have lent their support and “would like to see it finance a broader range of projects, including water and clean-energy projects.” Obama said: “It will change the way Washington spends your tax dollars, reforming the haphazard and patchwork way we fund and maintain our infrastructure to focus less on wasteful earmarks and outdated formulas, and more on competition and innovation that gives us the best bang for the buck.”
Learn more about Obama’s plan and read his announcement at the White House. Also, see a brief from Clifford Winston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, which argues that the infrastructure bank plan would likely have the same problems as Congressional financing of transportation projects — it wouldn’t be insulated from political decisions. Instead, Winston argues “privatization, instead of a bank, is the real long-term solution to the nation’s transportation infrastructure problems.”
Image credit: City of Atlanta Streetcar, Central Atlanta Progress, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District