Out of Control Policy Blog

New Round of TIGER Grants, Same Old Political Purpose


Earlier this month, the White House awarded a fifth round of Transportation Investment General Economy Recovery (TIGER) grants totaling $474 million to 37 states. And like other rounds of TIGER Grants these seem motivated by politics, not policy. Despite Congress’ repeated attempts to kill the grant program, the White House seems to find a way to fund it. 

The TIGER V grants continue to suffer from vague metrics, decision-making using inadequate documentation, award policies based on geography, not needs, and the dispersion of limited information to the public and applicants who fail to win grants. And the DOT, although not its fault, has trouble getting qualified economic analysis.  The administration should try to fix these issues, but I doubt it will. 

Previously, we used data from TIGER I, II and III to write a policy brief on Evaluating and Improving the TIGER Grants. Last year we analyzed the changes between the TIGER III and TIGER IV grants in Problems with the Government's TIGER Grants

But this year we want to focus on the big question: Do the grants accomplish their stated goal? And the answer appears to be no. 

According to the White House the TIGER Grants, “Achieve critical national objectives,” and the process, “Enables DOT to use a rigorous process to select projects with exceptional benefits.” 

But the grants seem to serve as a political exercise with leadership, vulnerable Democrats and transportation committee members receiving most of the awards. While the program is supposed to achieve “national” objectives, past rounds have funded a number of very local projects. And despite this being a “transportation” grant program, much of the funding has gone to economic development or environmental schemes.  

In the chart below we included all 52 TIGER V winners. We listed the official applicant, the state, the total funding, political leaders on key committees, the grants relationships to transit and relationship to national objectives/needs.

Table 1: List of Grant Winners



State

Applicant

Project Name

Funding

Political Connection

Related to Trans

National in scope

MO

City of Kansas City

Kansas City Downtown Streetcar

$20M

McCaskill (D) Commerce

No

No

GA

City of Atlanta

Southwest Atlanta BeltLine Corridor Trail

$18M

Lewis (D)

4th most powerful D in House

No

No

NY

City of Rochester

Inner Loop East Reconstruction

$17.7M

Schumer (D) 3rd most powerful D in Senate, Banking

No

No

CA

City of Fresno

Fulton Mall Reconstruction

$15.9M

Costa (D) Vulnerable

No

No

MA

City of Boston

Connect Historic Boston

$15.5M

Special Election upcoming

No

No

IL

City of Springfield

Springfield Rail Improvements

$14.4M

President Obama’s home state, Durbin 2nd most powerful D in Senate, Kirk-R Appropriations

Yes

Yes

MS

Jackson County Port Authority

Port of Pascagoula Intermodal Improvement

$14M

Cochran-R Appropriations

Yes

Yes

CA

San Diego Association of Governments

Pacific Surfliner Coastal Railway Bridges

$14M

Boxer-D EPW

Yes

No

WA

Sound Transit

I-90 Two Way Transit and HOV

$14M

Murray-D Appropriations, Cantwell-D Commerce

Yes

Yes

FL

Florida DOT

South Florida Freight and Passenger Rail Enhancement

$13.8M

Wasserman-Shultz-D Chair DNC Appropriations, Nelson Commerce

Yes

No

OK

City of Oklahoma City

OKC Intermodal Transportation Hub

$13.6M

Inhofe-R EPW

No

Yes

VA

Virginia DOT

Delta Frame Bridge

$12M

Warner-D Banking, Commerce

Yes

Yes

FL

Florida International University

University City Prosperity Project

$11.4M

Nelson-D Commerce

No

No

TX

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Moving Central Texas

$11.3M

Williams-R T&I,

Cruz-R Commerce

Yes

Yes

FL

Lee County Metro Planning Organization

Lee County Complete Streets

$10.4M

Nelson-D Commerce, Radal-R T&I

No

No

TX

Sun Metro

Northgate Transfer Center

$10.3M

Cruz-R Commerce

Partially

No

NC

City of Goldsboro

Goldsboro Main Street Revitalization

$10M

Butterfield-D vulnerable

No

No

DE

Diamond State Port Corporation

Rehabilitation of Wharf Unit 1 (Berths 5/6)

$10M

Biden’s home state, Carper-D EPW

Yes

Yes

MD

Maryland Port Administration

Port of Baltimore Enhancements

$10M

Mikulski-D Appropriations, Cardin-D EPW

Yes

Yes

MN

Duluth Seaway Port Authority

Port of Duluth Intermodal

$10M

Nolan-D T&I, Klobuchar-D Commerce

Yes

Yes

TX

Port of Houston Authority

Port of Houston Bayport Wharf

$10M

Gene Green-D

Vulnerable

Cruz-R Commerce

Yes

Yes

CO

Colorado DOT

Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel Fire Suppression

$10M

Polis-D Steering and Policy,

Bennet-D Banking

Yes

Yes

RI

Rhode Island DOT

Apponaug Circulator Improvements

$10M

Reed-D Appropriations

Whitehouse-D EPW

Yes

No

CT

Connecticut DOT

State Street Station Expansion

$10M

DeLauro-D Appropriations,

Blumenthal-D Commerce

Yes

No

IN

Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation

IndyGo Electric Bus

$10M

Carson-D T& I

No

No

NC

City of Raleigh

Raleigh Union Station Phase 1B

$10M

Price-D Appropriations, Hagan-D Banking

Yes

No

PA

SE Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

SEPTA-CSX Separation Project

$10M

Schwartz-D Ways and Means, Home State of T&I Chairman Shuster, Toomey-R Banking

Yes

Yes

TN

Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority

Nashville Transit Signal Priority System

$10M

Alexander–R Appropriations, Corker-R Banking

Yes

No

WA

Sound Transit

Tacoma Trestle Replacement

$10M

Murray-D Appropriations Cantwell-D Commerce

No

No

MI

Michigan DOT

Kalamazoo to Dearborn Rail Improvements

$9.4M

--

Yes

Yes

VT

Vermont DOT

Western Corridor Rail Rehabilitation

$9.0M

Leahy-D Appropriations, Sanders EPW

Yes

Yes

SD

Oglala Sioux Tribe

Improvements to BIA Route 2

$8.8M

Johnson-D Banking, Thune-R Commerce

Yes

No

IN

Indiana DOT

White River Freight Railroad Bridge Replacement

$8.2M

Bucshon-R T&I, Donnelly-D Vulnerable

Yes

Yes

WY

Town of Jackson

Jackson Transit Facility

$8M

Barrasso-R  EPW

Yes

No

NY

City of Olean

Walkable Olean: Complete Street Transformation

$6.5M

Reed-R T&I,

Schumer-D 3rd most powerful D in Senate, Banking

No

No

ME

Eastport Port Authority

Eastport Breakwater Replacement

$6M

Collings-R, Appropriations

Michaud-D T&I

Yes

Yes

AZ

Pima County

Port of Tucson: Container Export Rail Facility

$5M

Barber-D vulnerable

Flake-R Appropriations

Yes

Yes

AR

Arkansas DOT

Highway 92 Roadway Improvement and Bridge Replacement

$5M

Crawford-R T&I,

Griffin-R Ways and Means

Pryor-D vulnerable Appropriations, Commerce

Yes

Yes

AL

City of Foley

Foley Transportation Regional Infrastructure Pedestrian System

$4.7M

Election Upcoming, Shelby-R Appropriations Banking

No

No

MT

Missoula County

Missoula to Lolo Trail

$4.6M

Baucus-D EPW, Tester-D Appropriations, Daines-R T&I

No

No

MS

Mississippi DOT

I-20 Mississippi River Bridge Rehabilitation

$4.3M

Cochran-R Appropriations, Wicker-R Banking Commerce

Yes

Yes

NM

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo Veterans Highway

$3.3M

Udall-D Appropriations EPW, Heinrich-D Commerce

Yes

No

NV

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Pelican Point Roads

$2.9M

Reid-D Majority Leader, Heller-R Commerce

Yes

No

CO

Town of Windsor

Great Western Freight Improvement

$2.8M

Bennett-D Banking

Yes

Yes

AK

Village of Alakanuk

Alakanuk Community Streets Improvement

$2.2M

Murkowski-D Appropriations, Begich-D Vulnerable Appropriations Commerce, Young-R T&I

No

No

OK

Oklahoma DOT

Erick to Sayre Freight Railroad Rehabilitation

$1.8M

Inhofe-R EPW

Yes

Yes

IA

Winneshiek County

Northeast Iowa’s Livable Rural Communities

$1.7M

Harkin-D Appropriations

No

No

NY

Port of Oswego Authority

Port of Oswego: East Terminal Intermodal Connector

$1.5M

Schumer-D 3rd most Powerful D in Senate, Banking

Yes

Yes

CA

Town of Truckee

State Route 89 Railroad Undercrossing

$1.5M

Feinstein-D Appropriations

Boxer-D Chair EPW, Commerce

No

No

OR

Port of Garibaldi

Port of Garibaldi Wharf Revitalization

$1.5M

Merkeley-D Appropriations Banking EPW

Yes

No

MN

Minnesota DOT

Minnesota Rural Roads ITS

$1.5M

Walz-D T&I

Paulsen-R Ways and Means, Nolan-D T&I, Klobuchar-D Commerce,

Yes

Yes

NH

New Hampshire DOT

New Hampshire Northcoast Rail Corridor Improvements

$1.4M

Shaheen-D Appropriations, Ayotte-R Commerce

Yes

Yes 

According to our calculations 42 of the 52 grants, 81% were awarded to districts represented by at least one Democrat. Only 10 of the grants, 19%, were awarded to districts represented entirely by Republicans. 

Fifty-one of the 52 grants were awarded to members on a transportation related or leadership committee. These include grants to leadership, the Ways and Means and T&I committees in the House and the Appropriations, Banking, Commerce, and EPW committees in the Senate. While there are four relevant committees in the Senate, non-committee members should receive more than 1% of the grants. 

Based on Presidential voting patterns 27 of the grants or 53% went to the 22 most Democratic states. Nineteen of 36% of the grants went to the 22 most Republican states, and 6 or 11% of the grants went to states in the middle. 

Some states were awarded a relatively large amount of funds. Washington State, home of THUD subcommittee chair Patty Murray received more than five percent of the funding, despite having only two percent of the country’s population.

Many of the projects lacked a national purpose. Many were not related to transportation. Some were both. Seventeen of the 52 programs, 33%, were not related to transportation including the construction of a pedestrian mall and the conversion of a bus propulsion system from gasoline power to electric power. Twenty-eight of the 52 projects, 54%, were not national in focus. This includes a program to develop transit for Florida International University and the Port of Gariabaldi Wharf restoration in Oregon. The most egregious are the programs that are neither related to transportation nor solve a transportation problem. The largest grant, $20M, funded a local streetcar project in Kansas City. Streetcars may create economic development but they do nothing for a city’s transportation problem. And this two-mile streetcar line serves no national purpose. 

Rural communities won the majority of non-transportation, non-national grants. These communities tend to have smaller transportation needs than urban and suburban communities. But for political reasons, the TIGER grants have a special set aside for rural districts. As a result, Winneshiek County, Iowa a county with a declining population of 21,000 will receive $1.7 million for a trail from the booming metropolis of Freeport (8,100 people) to a housing subdivision. Clearly this has no national purpose. Just as clearly, this trail is intended for recreational not commuting purposes. 

The numerical evidence supports our contention that the program serves political not transportation interests. To be fair, it is challenging to make grant programs objective. Since the executive branch awards the money, there is a tendency for politicians to pressure transportation professionals to award grants to certain parties. 

At the same time merit-based grants are important because unlike formula funds, which provide a set amount of money based on one variable such as population, grants can allow officials to award money to legitimate national transportation needs. However, the folks in charge actually need to treat it like a merit-based program with clear quantitative guidelines and objective reviewers and not a political fire drill. And since it is clear the Obama administration has no intention of doing so, Congress should eliminate all transportation grant funding until the administration learns the difference between political needs and transportation needs. 

Baruch Feigenbaum is Transportation Policy Analyst


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