Coming Soon to Popular Transport Stimulus Programs: Local Funding

Two of the most popular transportation programs in the Obama administration’s stimulus law, the $1.5 billion in competitive grants known as TIGER and the $8 billion high-speed rail initiative, had an added feature that made them even more attractive to cities and states: the federal funding awards would not require a local match.

df07252005d.jpgAmtrak’s Empire Builder line currently provides rail service to Milwaukee. (Photo: Nat’l Corridors Initiative)

But that arrangement is about to change, as the stimulus era runs its course and the next rounds of high-speed rail and TIGER-style competitive grants are given out by the U.S. DOT.

In Wisconsin, where an advertising war already has started between conservative critics and industry supporters of the state’s $822 million bullet-train grant, local media reports that finding a local match for future rail grants could prove a significant stumbling block:

Unlike the first high-speed rail grants Wisconsin received, future federal payouts will require the state put up its own money.

But
the state already has problems maintaining its roads and should not
shell out money from the transportation budget to get federal rail
grants, said Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, the Wisconsin
Assembly’s appointee to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail
Commission.

“Irrespective of the amount of federal money that is
on the table right now,” Gottlieb said, “moving forward even faster
with intercity rail is something I just don’t think we can afford right
now.”

It remains to be seen whether Wisconsin’s resistance to budgeting for a state contribution to high-speed rail — which is not affecting its enthusiasm for other federal road and transit programs that require a local match — will become a trend in the coming months. The $600 million in competitive TIGER-style grants that Congress approved last fall will require localities to find matching funds, but the U.S. DOT has yet to formally solicit applications for that funding.

Still, as a growing number of states face budget crises in the wake of the global financial crisis, available funding for all modes of transportation is evaporating. The latest state to feel the pinch is Maryland, where officials have announced plans to delay for two years a $28 million capital contribution to the D.C. area’s Metro transit system.

  • Two Comments:

    1. On the match for TIGER grants there should be a provision that permits USDOT to waive the local match if the locality meets a specified standard of economic distress. It would be a shame if these innovative grants — which have great potential for catalyzing livable communities — are restricted to more affluent areas that have the capacity to meet the match requirement.

    2. I hope that some enterprising journalists will do some in depth analysis of how Maryland’s decision to build the ICC has impacted their ability to support Metro specifically and other modes of transportation in general.

  • On #1, just about every governmental entity is in the position these days where they can claim “economic distress”, so I don’t see that being viable.

    On #2, except for a couple hundred million taken out of the TTF (presumably from the “road side”, but I don’t have details), ICC’s funding doesn’t impact transit funding. Instead, what it does do is impact the state’s bond capacity for the next several years.

  • Jass

    “I just don’t think we can afford right now.”

    Then when can we? Why wasnt this done in the boom years? Probably because “it’s not feasible right now”. We probably should never do anything now.

  • Matt

    Why was this Gotlieb on the Midwest Interstate Rail Commission if he doesn’t support it? I bet he didn’t make very many of their meetings.

  • MAT

    This is pretty simple stuff – if you want federal assistance, put up some of your own funding. If you can’t come up with a match, then you probably don’t have much commitment to the project in the first place.

  • Nathanael

    Wisconsin needs its Republicans to drop dead.

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