Across the country, municipalities are looking for more transportation funding, particularly for public transportation. A recent poll from Politico magazine found that among mayors, aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure was the most often cited concern.1
Enter TIGER grants. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Grant program, is one of the most flexible forms of transportation funding. Unlike many federal programs which typically give funds to state DOTs or transit agencies, TIGER grants can be awarded to any public entity like a municipal government. The funds can also be used for multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects that can be harder to fund with other forms of federal money.2
The flexibility of TIGER grants and the limited amount of funding for public transportation projects has made them tremendously popular since the program was started in 2009. Over the years there have been over 6,700 applications for funds amounting to $134 billion from all fifty states and U.S. territories, but only 381 projects have been selected, with approximately $4.8 billion in funding. In the latest round of TIGER grants, known as TIGER VII, there were 629 applications and 39 were selected.3
One success story from TIGER is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The eight mile protected pedestrian and bike trail also serves as a linear park connecting six cultural districts around the city. In 2010, the project was awarded $20 million from the TIGER program and the trail opened three years later. Today, we can see the results of the project: property values along the trail have risen over 148 percent and all of Indianapolis’s bike share stations are on or near the trail making it even easier to explore for residents and visitors alike.
Below are 12 of the 39 projects from TIGER VII. Along with a number of road and port projects among the grants, the projects highlighted below are some of our favorites that fund public transportation and walking and biking projects. Unlike many things in Congress, the TIGER program has enjoyed bipartisan support – when the grants were announced at the end of October, press releases were flying from the congressional offices of both parties.4
Despite the support for the program in Congress and the roars for more from communities, TIGER hasn’t been made permanent and hasn’t been included in the either of the long-term transportation bills in Congress.4 While the TIGER program can still be authorized each year on its own, leaving it out of a long-term bill is a missed opportunity to provide some certainty to such a popular program.
However, there are proposals that would fund TIGER for the long term. According to the U.S. DOT, "The GROW AMERICA Act, the administration’s surface transportation legislative proposal, would keep TIGER roaring with $7.5 billion over six years for TIGER grants."5 That would nearly double the average funding TIGER has had over the last seven years, but the GROW AMERICA act isn’t among the bills being considered by Congress. It’s imperative that we continue to fund a program that supports multi-modal, innovative transportation projects.
TIGER grant highlights:6
- AL – Birmingham Alabama received a $20 million grant to support a 15-mile bus rapid transit line that will increase “mobility by providing safe and reliable transit, bicycle and pedestrian options. The grant will fund real-time transit information systems, additional compressed natural gas buses, and transit maintenance facility renovations.
- AZ – Phoenix received a $10.3 million grant to complete an 8 mile section of the Grand Canalscape – a dedicated bike and pedestrian trail. The project will connect over 230 miles of existing bike lanes, two nearby light rail stations, and a dozen bus routes.
- CA – Los Angeles received a $15 million grant to “restore a blighted area of unused railroad tracks to an inviting corridor safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.” The 6.4 mile corridor already serves nearly 7,000 pedestrians and cyclists daily and will better connect 3 large north-south transit lines.
- CT – The Metro North commuter rail that runs from New York City to New Haven is getting a new station in east Bridgeport. The station project will improve the economic competitiveness of the area, provide greater access to the rail for low-income residents, and make street improvements in the area. A $10 million TIGER grant will contribute to the $146 million project.
- HI – A $13.8 million grant to Kaua’i county will fund a pedestrian, cycling, and transit make over in the city of Līhu’e. An existing street will be converted into a transit hub, another into a bicycle boulevard and other streets will get sidewalks and shared use pedestrian/bike paths.
- IL – A $14 million grant to Metra, the commuter rail agency in the Chicago area, will replace a 134 year old bridge and add additional tracks on the new bridge to alleviate the current bottleneck from just a single set of tracks.
- MA – Lowell received almost $13.4 million to construct 3 bridges and repair 3 more over the power canals. The bridges will accommodate cars, bikes, and pedestrians while increasing connectivity in the city for students, emergency vehicles, and transit routes.
- NM – A $1 million grant will fund the construction of pedestrian and bike lanes in a low-income, high-unemployment area of the state to provide more options for transportation to jobs, education, etc.
- PA – Philadelphia received $10.2 to “close the gaps” in the multimodal transportation network for three low-income parts of the city. Each project will increase transportation options and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
- TX – A $20.8 million grant to the Texas DOT will help construct transit facilities in growing rural communities and replace hundreds of obsolete vehicles with more fuel efficient vehicles.
- WA – The City of Tacoma received $15 million to support a $160 million expansion of the LINK light rail system. The expansion will more than double the size of the light rail in downtown Tacoma. The project features additional stations and improved bicycle and pedestrian access and is being planned in conjunction with residential and commercial development.
- WI – Milwaukee’s streetcar is getting a spur from downtown to the growing lakefront area with a $14.2 million grant. The spur will connect affordable housing and redevelopment projects currently under construction.
To see all TIGER VII selections and details, see the U.S. DOT’s fact sheet.
1 Politico, “Mayors to 2016 Candidates: Enough Vitriol, We Need ‘Grown-Up Conversations,’” October 2015.
2 U.S. Department of Transportation, "About TIGER Grants," October 29, 2015.
3 U.S. Department of Transportation, "TIGER Discretionary Grants," October 29, 2015.
4 Transportation for America, “Ten thing to know about the House transportation bill,” October 30, 2015.
5 The Hill, “Feds award $500M in TIGER transportation grants,” October 29, 2015.
6 U.S Department of Transportation, “Tiger 2015 Awards,” October 29, 2015.