Hunting the TIGER
Lawmakers take a "kill it first" approach to our transportation future.
A battle is shaping up over how the US will allocate transportation funding to shape the built environment for decades to come.
At the center of this battle, getting little attention in the national media, are the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.
Although it represents only a small portion of recent US transportation funding, TIGER is one of the most hopeful programs in recent memory to come out of the US Department of Transportation. Unlike most other DOT funding, TIGER grants encourage local officials to consider how transportation will affect land use and economic development. They are competitive and not restricted to a specific mode, which promotes creative problem-solving.
Examples of TIGER grants in 2009 and 2010 include: converting sections of auto-centric highways to boulevards that support mixed-use, walkable communities; developing transportation hubs that boost multimodal systems (including local and regional rail lines, street networks, and walking and bicycling trails); and making key improvements to freight rail systems to remove bottlenecks.
These types of projects address critical issues, such as global warming (giving people the option to not drive everywhere), and unemployment (transportation projects focused on transit and pedestrian/bicycle improvements are more effective in putting people to work). Also, such projects work with, not against, a long-term shift in consumer preference.
The Obama Administration is going in the right direction with TIGER grants, proposing $2 billion for 2010. The program kicked off with $1.5 billion in 2009, part of the stimulus program. Last year, a second round of $600 million was approved. Many members of the House of Representatives not only would like to eliminate this program, they want to strip away the 2010 funding.
In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, officials are worried about losing a $20 million bridge project, as reported in Seacoastonline.com: "The most recent federal funding bill that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday includes language that would eliminate many Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery II grants — including the one for the bridge." Senator Dick Durbin held a press conference February 21 to save another TIGER II grant for Peoria.
This hand-wringing, while understandable, diverts attention away from the real issue. We have limited government dollars, so are we going to spend them to solve problems or make them worse? Those who oppose the TIGER program are not against all transportation funding. They are in favor of continuing the obsolete practice of spending billions mostly for new highways and road widenings. But this is not the 1950s, and that is not how we will build a livable future.