|The SFCTA and MTC are hoping to score $50 million of
TIGER funds for Doyle Drive. Rendering courtesy of SFCTA.
Certain pots of money in the ARRA federal stimulus bill that have been earmarked for transportation, like the $8 billion of grants for high-speed rail, have gotten a lot of attention. Other pots of money, like the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grants, have garnered somewhat less popular attention. But local governments and state DOTs, eager for any federal money they can get their hands on, are strategizing how they could best make use of the promised TIGER funds to fill in any outstanding funding gaps. Like the high-speed rail money, TIGER funds are discretionary, awarded by USDOT through a competitive grant process. Federal money is, of course, welcome; but in the case of the TIGER funds, there is not that much money to go around. A total of $1.5 billion of grants will be awarded nationwide, and no single state can be awarded more than $300 million total in grants. Even a $300 million award for one state would be fairly generous, because under that scenario, a single state would be given 20% of the total funding that has been set aside for the TIGER program.
The basic point of the TIGER discretionary grants is to stimulate job creation by providing money for capital investments in surface transportation, particularly for projects that will have long-term regional or national impact. The extent of a particular project’s impact is measured by how it promotes several criteria, including: livability, sustainability, safety, economic competitiveness, and the transportation system’s state of good repair. All applications must document the benefits of the proposed project in terms of these criteria. Appropriate projects eligible for TIGER grants include public transportation projects (such as New Starts and Small Starts), highways and bridges, port infrastructure projects, as well as passenger and freight rail. Each individual project submitted for consideration should request a grant of at least $20 million, but no more than $300 million (though the lower bound may sometimes be waived). In selecting the grants, USDOT will prioritize projects that will spend all of their awarded money by ARRA’s February 17, 2012 deadline, and which will be substantially completed by that point.
These requirements are quite flexible, and states have been taking advantage of that flexibility by considering a wide variety of projects. For example, Washington State will apply for money to fund the North Columbia Basin Railroad project, and New Orleans would like to fund three streetcar extensions. Meanwhile, Kansas City would like money to improve local pedestrian and bicycle amenities and to create more livable streets, and Washington, D.C. plans to fund a priority bus network (PDF), construction of the K Street Transitway, and a regional bike-sharing program.
|Official TIGER logo. Courtesy of USDOT.|
The legislation requires that the grant winners be announced by February 17, 2010. But to get the ball rolling, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood has indicated (PDF) that the TIGER grants will be announced in January 2010, one month in advance of the deadline. Applicants are currently working to piece together their requests before the application deadline on September 15, 2009.
The Bay Area pulled together a core list of eighteen projects that mostly met the federal eligibility requirements. These requests totaled to $585 million, but that is almost double the maximum amount that the entire state could receive. So MTC narrowed down that list to just four projects that it believed would appear compelling to USDOT. This smaller list includes $133 million of requests, submitted to Caltrans:
- Doyle Drive ($50 million): This roughly $1 billion project will replace the seismically unsound stretch of Doyle Drive with a new roadway through the Presidio. Because of its high construction cost, piecing together the funds for Doyle Drive has been an important priority for the SFCTA and MTC, and MTC has requested Caltrans to sponsor $50 million of TIGER funds for it.
- Oakland Airport Connector ($5 million): The federal government has a TIFIA loan program, through which it provides credit assistance to aid in the completion of surface transportation improvements. TIFIA loans exist outside of the TIGER Discretionary Grants, but USDOT may use up to $200 million of the total $1.5 billion toward TIFIA payments. It is estimated that the $200 million would support about $2 billion in TIFIA credit assistance. As we’ve discussed before, BART has planned to pursue a TIFIA loan of up to $150 million, so that it can build the Oakland Airport Connector. The requested $5 million TIGER TIFIA payment would support a $100 million TIFIA loan for the OAC.
- Port of Oakland ($28 million): A $28 million grant would provide the bulk of the $35 million needed to build electricity infrastructure for the trade corridor connecting the ports of Oakland, Stockton, and Sacramento. MTC has identified this as the Bay Area’s priority for goods movement, a category of project valued by USDOT for its combination of economic and environmental benefits.
- Expansion of BART’s Hayward Yard ($50 million): MTC has requested a $50 million grant toward a roughly $62.3 million expansion of BART’s Hayward Yard. The expansion will include tracks to store 190 additional vehicles, in support of the planned BART extensions to Warm Springs and Santa Clara County.
MTC has prioritized these projects for TIGER grants, but that definitely does not mean that these will get federal funding. So what is the significance of this list? The State of California is now carrying out a process external to the standard TIGER procedure. The projects listed above are considered to be the Bay Area’s regional priorities; other regions and potential applicants (which include transit agencies, port authorities, and local governments) from throughout California will submit their own priority projects to Caltrans. Participation in the Caltrans process is voluntary, but Caltrans will combine the most compelling project notices it has received into a statewide consensus package endorsed by the Governor. The goal is to present USDOT with a package of especially strong California projects — a vetted list that is the product of a statewide cooperative effort — in order to convince USDOT to grant money to those projects, and to award California the statutory maximum amount of funds.
But despite all of the administrative fuss over the TIGER grants, we should be realistic about what TIGER’s impact could be. California can be awarded at most $300 million — so even under the ideal, best-case scenario, that maximum award would probably translate into at most $100-$125 million for the Bay Area. And even that relatively small amount of money is optimistic, because the Bay Area faces competition from other parts of California — in particular, Southern California, which has compiled a hefty package that includes L.A./Long Beach port projects, roadway upgrades, positive train control implementation, and railroad grade separations. The Caltrans-sponsored list is due later in August, shortly before the application deadline in September. We will see then which Bay Area projects are selected for the statewide consensus package, and in early 2010, we will learn which projects receive TIGER funds.