Port-related projects received more than one-fifth of the $474 million in TIGER grants awarded Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Almost half of the 52 projects selected, garnering $123.4 million, were designated for rural areas.
TIGER is a highly competitive, discretionary grant program for multimodal and multi-jurisdictional projects that typically don’t qualify for federal highway aid to states, which have the authority to decide how to spend the money. Combinations of parties from the private sector, state and local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies usually team up to share the investment cost with DOT. The 2013 TIGER grants support $1.8 billion in overall project investments.
A distinguishing feature of TIGER is that it applies relatively rigorous standards to the selection process. Project sponsors must demonstrate up front that the infrastructure they plan to repair or build meets national goals such as reducing congestion and air pollution, improving safety, boosting economic development and job creation, and creating livable communities that rely less on automobile transport.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Growth (TIGER) program was created as part of the 2009 stimulus legislation designed to help pull the country out of recession.
It has proved widely popular among transportation officials and especially in the freight sector, which doesn’t have a dedicated stream of federal dollars for infrastructure improvements even though freight transport plays a huge role in economic growth. The program is continually oversubscribed. DOT said it received 585 applications requesting a total of $9 billion for the fifth round.
Freight-related projects garnered more than 28 percent of the total award amount when port and freight rail infrastructure winners are combined.
The 2013 TIGER grant selections served in part as an extension of President Obama’s “Fix It First” approach to infrastructure and his goal of jump-starting the economy. The “Fix It First” program he proposed last year seeks $50 billion in congressional appropriations for neglected infrastructure that needs immediate repair and upgrade.
DOT said its $10 million investment to reconstruct the Tacoma, Wash., rail trestle is an example of repairing existing infrastructure. Replacing the 100-year-old single track, wooden trestle with a modern, two-track structure will double capacity and improve reliability for commuter and regional passenger service, plus add freight capacity on the Tacoma Rail line that connects to the Port of Tacoma.
Another $10 million will go to the Port of Houston’s Bayport Container Terminal wharf extension, allowing it to double capacity by 2033 and help the nation achieve another Obama goal of doubling exports.
Projects to improve marine or landside operations at ports received $103.7 million, or almost 22 percent of the total. The American Association of Port Authorities has lobbied the administration to give 25 percent of TIGER grants to ports, but this year’s percentage is the highest so far, it said. In each round, ports have received a larger cut, taking 16 percent of award money in the previous round.
“While funding for port-related infrastructure received a higher priority this time than in the four previous TIGER rounds, AAPA continues to advocate for a permanent authorization of a TIGER program and urges that 25 percent of future TIGER grants be provided for seaport-related infrastructure, since ports are one of the four eligible areas (along with highways/bridges, transit, and freight/passenger rail) for the program,” AAPA President Kurt Nagle said in a statement.
Notable projects that received funding include:
- Jackson County Port Authority (Fla.) - $14 million for the Port of Pascagoula to upgrade the intermodal rail connections at the port.
- Duluth Seaway Port Authority (Minn.) - $10 million to rebuild and expand a 28-acre general cargo dock at the Port of Duluth-Superior and connect the site to existing road and rail infrastructure.
- Maryland Port Administration - $10 million for the Port of Baltimore to expand the handling capacity at the Fairfield Marine Terminal by filling in the obsolete West Basin and the construction of a rail intermodal facility to handle expanded automotive export and imports.
- South Florida Freight and Passenger Rail Enhancement - $13.7 million to better link southern Florida’s two major freight rail corridors to improve freight and passenger connectivity, including to multimodal logistics parks and Port Miami.
- Port of Tucson (Ariz.) - $5 million for a container export rail facility.
So far, the TIGER program has provided more than $3.6 billion to 270 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The complete list of 2013 TIGER awards can be found here
. - Eric Kulisch