Bids For Federal Streetcar Aid Top Available Money by Nearly Tenfold

After announcing $130 million in new streetcar grants in December, the Obama administration received more than $1.1 billion in applications, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) chief Peter Rogoff told lawmakers today -- offering more evidence of the growing local enthusiasm for competitive transportation funding that began with the stimulus law's TIGER grant program.

large_streetcar.red.JPGNew Orleans, above, is one of more than 65 cities seeking federal grants for its streetcar. (Photo: Times-Picayune)

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Rogoff said the winners of the streetcar grants as well as a corresponding bus funding program would be named in June. The bus grants, totaling $150 million, were even more popular than the streetcar funding, with more than $2 billion worth of applications submitted to the FTA.

Rogoff, a veteran congressional aide before his nomination to the FTA, described the streetcar and bus programs as elements of the administration's broader plan to promote transit-oriented development and sustainable transportation under the "livable communities" aegis.

The FTA, he said, will keep pursuing "more integrated regional planning to guide state, metropolitan and local decisions that link land use, transportation and housing policy," with a special emphasis on making the most of increasingly scarce federal funds.

The stimulus law's $1.5 billion TIGER program (short for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) was even more oversubscribed than the streetcar or bus grants, with more than $57 billion in bids pouring in. The grants were so in-demand that several Republicans took political flak for supporting local applications after criticizing the stimulus law as a whole, and Democrats from states that came up short were not shy about airing their frustrations.

The significant demand for streetcar and bus funds, coming on the heels of TIGER's success, could bolster the U.S. DOT's case for more merit-based grant programs that disburse aid on the basis of environmental and economic metrics rather than state-based formulas. The White House already has signaled that it supports an expansion of the TIGER program beyond the $600 million in extra grants approved during last year's appropriations process.