President Trump’s first federal budget proposal seeks to massively boost funding for defense and homeland security by taking away billions of dollars previously earmarked for everything from health and human services to, yes, transportation. Trump would slash the Department of Transportation’s budget by 13%, which would reduce its expenditures from the 2017 baseline of $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion for 2018.
To make those DOT numbers, Trump would eliminate funding for the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program in Fiscal Year 2018. But an infrastructure advocacy group questions the wisdom of that cut, especially in light of Trump’s own proposal to see $1 trillion of public and private funds invested to improve America’s infrastructure.
"Competitive grant programs, such as TIGER and the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program [also known as FASTLANE grants], are critical tools for transportation projects that are difficult to fund through traditional distribution methods, such as formula programs," Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, said in a statement.
Nessle said both programs encourage competition at the state, regional and local level to develop projects that maximize federal investment by encouraging creative financing arrangements, private sector participation, and strong non-federal matching.
"TIGER and the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program are not interchangeable," Nessle said. "Whereas the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program was developed with freight-focused investment criteria, the TIGER program is available to address a multitude of mobility issues — including freight, mixed use infrastructure, and transit. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2016, just 26% of total TIGER funding was awarded to projects with a strong freight component."
Nessle pointed out that the two programs complement each other — projects that qualify under one program may not qualify under the other. With little exception, project costs must total a minimum of $100 million to be considered under the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program; for TIGER, the minimum total project cost is $6 million in urban areas and even less for rural areas.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average award size through the TIGER program is $14.5 million. By contrast, the average award under the first round of Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program — designed largely for mega-projects — is $42.2 million.
“We applaud the President’s stated commitment to ‘investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects,’ and encourage the Administration to fund — at an increased, robust level — competitive grant programs that support nationally and regionally significant freight infrastructure projects,” she continued.
Nessle added that the U.S. population is expected to increase 70 million by 2045, and each person uses roughly 63 tons of freight annually, so "investment is needed to make this demand an opportunity, rather than a crisis.”