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Requests Skyrocket for DOT Grants
Friday, 25 September 2009 00:00
Transport groups ask for $57 billion from stimulus pool of only $1.5 billion

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s $1.5 billion discretionary grant pool won’t come anywhere close to meeting its requests, as states and other transport groups sent in applications for $56.9 billion to cover highway projects as well as transit, rail, seaport and other construction needs.

While LaHood has said he will spend some of these grants on ports because no other stimulus fund specifically covered them, ports turned in requests for $3.38 billion, or more than twice the entire discretionary funding account.

The Department of Transportation calls these TIGER grants, taken from the name it earlier gave to the cross-agency team within DOT that began coordinating Recovery Act implementation policies even before most senior department officials were confirmed by Congress.

The acronym stands for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.” In all, the TIGER team has pushed through application policies for $48 billion that DOT alone will spend under the Recovery Act.

But while nearly all of that was targeted for precise types of allocations by Congress—with amounts dominated by highway and bridge repairs but including accounts for airports, railroads and transit system—lawmakers also gave the secretary this untargeted grant account to spend on projects he deemed worthy.

Applications were due into DOT on Sept. 15, and LaHood said the result was “an outpouring of creative and innovative transportation project proposals.” Now comes the waiting for an answer, which could begin soon but may take until Feb. 17, 2010. DOT said LaHood “has committed to announcing all of the projects by January.”

An example is a request for $36 million from Port Manatee, Fla., to build a container handling terminal, extend a ship berth by half, add a mobile crane and buy two switcher locomotives.

While that is small compared with the total account, it is just one of nearly 800 applications for grants ranging from $20 million to $100 million. Ports alone submitted 96 requests or 7 percent of all applications.

Some are hoping for grants to be significantly larger.

The railroad industry’s multi-year program to untangle congestion in Chicago, the continent’s premier hub, hopes for $300 million in TIGER grants. Norfolk Southern Railway also wants $300 million, to fund key parts of its planned Crescent Corridor capacity expansion program that could bring it much more intermodal business from Mississippi River delta terminals up to New York.

Projects seeking over $100 million, said DOT, must provide “an economic benefit-cost analysis” that considers “fuel and travel time savings, carbon emission reductions and economic and public health benefits.”

In all, DOT said it received 1,381 requests for money from the $1.5 billion grant fund. They include 125 rail applications for $5.6 billion; transit systems turned in 220 requests for nearly $11 billion; and states poured in 770 applications for $32 billion in highway infrastructure grants.

For more details, see http://www.dot.gov/recovery/docs/tdgappoverview.pdf.

Journal of Commerce, 9/25/2009