Federal aid requests for bridge, transit, port, highway and other infrastructure projects are overwhelming the Department of Transportation, with more than $19 billion being sought for a fund that has only $600 million.
Nearly 1,000 construction grant applications—representing all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia—for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II dollars were filed before the August deadline, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has announced.
The overwhelming demand for TIGER II monies—the requests total more than 31 times the funds available—are the latest example of extreme demand for relatively few infrastructure funds.
In February, DOT announced that it had received 51 applications totaling nearly $60 billion for the $1.5 billion available under TIGER I—demand that was 40 times that supply.
Infrastructure Improvement Backlog
“The wave of applications for both TIGER II and TIGER I dollars shows the backlog of needed infrastructure improvements and the desire for more flexible funds,” said LaHood. “This also shows the opportunities still before us to create jobs, to reduce congestion, make wise environmental choices and help generate lasting economic growth.”
The $600 million in TIGER II grants is for capital investment in surface transportation projects.
Up to $35 million in TIGER II funds may be used for planning grants. DOT has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to offer the planning grants along with HUD’s $40 million in Community Challenge Planning Grants. DOT and HUD have received almost 700 applications for planning grants.
“Combining these funds will provide applicants with one-stop shopping and greater consistency for community development projects that include both transportation and housing or economic development components,” DOT said in a statement. DOT, HUD, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will jointly evaluate the planning grant applications.
The long-simmering crisis in infrastructure funding returned to a full boil in September, when President Obama proposed a $50 billion, six-year infrastructure stimulus plan. Still, no legislation has been drafted, and none is expected before Election Day—and probably not before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, gas tax revenues are down nationwide, state budgets have been slashed, and the clock is ticking down to Dec. 31 on the extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The 2005 measure was set to expire in September 2009, but Congress and Obama decided in March to renew it for the rest of 2010. SAFETEA-LU is a successor to the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991.
Funded, Not Spent
Some infrastructure projects have actually received funding but have not used it. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, part of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, reported in June that nearly $120 million in Federal Transit Administration earmarks approved by Congress had sat untouched in FTA accounts for years and have now lapsed.
Funds for these projects should have been used by Sept. 30, 2009, but were never spent for various reasons. “The $119.2 million in unspent transit funds are from over 150 earmarks Congress approved in 2006 and 2007 that had been set aside under SAFETEA-LU for communities to purchase new buses, plan and build light rail and bus rapid transit projects, and fund state and local evaluations of transit projects,” Sunlight reported.
DOT is now shifting funds from these lapsed earmarks to other projects that it deems appropriate.
The much-sought-after TIGER II grants will be awarded on a competitive basis “to projects that have a significant impact on the nation, a region or metropolitan area,” DOT says.
“The projects sought are those that 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 “economic competitiveness” criterion refers to projects that would alleviate major freight bottlenecks, like congestion at ports and improving capacity of rail lines that carry exports to the coasts, a DOT spokeswoman said.
Priority will also be given to “projects that are expected to create and preserve jobs quickly and stimulate rapid increases in economic activity,” DOT said.
The Federal Register notice can be accessed here.
Grant recipients will be announced in a few months, DOT said.