GOP Appropriations Bill Would Turn TIGER Into a Roads Program

As the president’s transportation proposal fades from the news cycle and we eagerly await the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s six-year reauthorization bill, here comes the House Republicans’ proposed budget for transportation and housing for next year.

This is what the country's best innovative transportation grant program could become. Photo: ##
This is what the country’s best innovative transportation grant program could become. Photo: ##

Note: What the House GOP released yesterday wasn’t an authorization bill but an appropriations bill for 2015. So far, there is no authorization guiding transportation spending for 2015, and as such this appropriations bill says that its funding levels are “contingent on the enactment of new transportation authorization legislation.” Nothing can be appropriated that isn’t authorized.

While previous GOP appropriations proposals have eliminated TIGER grant funding altogether, this proposal allocates $100 million for TIGER, down from the $600 million the program got this year. More horrifically, the GOP proposes to limit TIGER grants to projects that “address critical transportation needs,” defined as roads and bridges, ports and freight rail.

And just to be clear about what they mean, the GOP adds, “The legislation does not allow these funds to be used for non-essential purposes, such as street-scaping, or bike and pedestrian paths.” Also ineligible are transit projects that would be eligible for New Starts or other FTA grants, carpool projects, ADA compliance for sidewalks, highway and transit safety improvements, planning, congestion mitigation, intelligent transportation systems, anything related to congestion pricing (including electric toll collection and travel demand management), or recreational trails.

Honestly, if that’s what TIGER would become, maybe it would be best to zero it out altogether.

President Obama’s proposal, released last week, would double the TIGER program. Historically, TIGER has been a way cities and metro areas can bypass their states to go directly to the federal government for funds for multi-modal programs. Transit, biking and walking projects — as well as freight projects that haven’t always had a natural home in other federal funding programs — have done very well with TIGER.

The rest of the GOP appropriations bill’s cuts are mostly notable in their restraint. The bill hews to the bipartisan two-year budget resolution for 2014 and 2015 and not Paul Ryan’s 2015 budget, which would have held transportation spending to the levels available in the Highway Trust Fund.

And while the committee is trying to cut some programs, the cuts aren’t as extreme as previous attempts have been. This time last year, House Democrats were lamenting “the twilight of the appropriations process” as the GOP rammed through a “grossly inadequate bill” that, thankfully, didn’t stand a chance of becoming law.

So, the numbers: This bill would freeze highway spending at current levels — $40.25 billion — but cut transit by about 2 percent and rail by 12 percent. Amtrak capital funds would shrink from 1.05 billion to $850 million, while operations funding would stay level at $340 million. As usual, nothing is provided for high-speed rail.

New Starts funding for transit capital improvements would fall from $1.9 billion to $1.7 billion under the bill. Already, the LA Times is reporting that the transit authority in Los Angeles is nervous that a cut like this could endanger the $200 million the city was hoping to get for the Purple Line extension and for a downtown tunnel linking the Gold Line with the Blue Line.

This appropriations bill is restrained enough that it could, potentially, be conferenced with a Senate bill, rather than surrender to a continuing resolution. If it does go to conference, advocates will have to lean on Senate Democrats to stand strong on TIGER and refuse to let transportation’s most innovative and multi-modal funding source become a slush fund for roads.

  • Jack Jackson

    LOL! roads bridges ports and bridges facilitate interstate commerce, you know, the thing the Constitution empowers Congress to regulate.

    Bike paths and street scapes aren’t interstate commerce.

    Federal funds for national benefits. Raise state and local revenues for bikey hopey changey.

  • Bolwerk

    Even if you accept that argument, urban transit programs TIGER funds are part of an intermodal transportation network and certainly benefit interstate commerce as much as an intrastate road, if not more.

    Though I have trouble seeing how a bicycle network can’t be seen as part of the same network.

  • Jack Jackson

    so a 5 mile trolley in KC provides as much interstate commerce as 10 miles of interstate connecting to a rail head?


    how many ton miles of freight move by bicycles these days?

  • dk12

    except this is pretty clearly the same GOP tactic of attempting to cripple urban areas that rely heavily on public transit, and increasingly bike/ped infrastructure, for their workforce – places that produce, by far, the largest share of this nation’s GDP.

    If they were actually only interested in using TIGER grants for “interstate commerce,” any road/bridge funding should be for infrastructure that is completely restricted to freight only… not for personal vehicles – because walking/biking/driving/taking the bus places, by your logic, isn’t “interstate commerce.”

  • dk12

    so… roads are only for moving freight – got it. no personal vehicles allowed.

  • Jack Jackson

    did I say that? I implied bicycles and urban transit don’t facilitate interstate commerce to the extent highways do.

    bikes and local choo choos are great. but when federal resources are limited, priority must go to projects that have the largest public benefit to the most amount of people

  • Bolwerk

    The word is “facilitates,” not “provides,” and commerce is as at least as much about providing services as it is about moving freight. Like it or not, local transit (and roads) are a critical component to successful interstate commerce.

    Though, even if we accept your limited definitions, at the very least cycling infrastructure has a lot of potential to ease the movement of goods by reducing dependency on automobiles.

  • Bolwerk

    So, in cities, that would be urban rail hands down. There isn’t a more cost-effective form of transportation for moving people, and moving people efficiently is far and away the biggest inadequacy in our transportation system.

  • dk12

    there are laws in many states that require all new road construction to include bike/ped facilities, regardless of funding sources – so – are they going to use this as a basis to deny TIGER grants to states that have these laws on the books?

  • dk12

    also – this makes absolutely no sense in places like the northeast which are essentially completely built out – Massachusetts, for example, is no longer funding new highway construction – because there is no space and there is a severe congestion problem that cannot be relieved by highway expansion – they need to focus on shifting people to alternative modes of transportation – so this means that the GOP has decided that the needs of states like Massachusetts do not matter.

    Other cities even in red states are grappling with these same issues.

  • Ramsay

    And economic recovery in general is restricted to shipping and freight? Recovery is the point of TIGER, and LRT and multi-modal transport allow people who otherwise wouldn’t go to certain places to spend money to do just that. I don’t think anyone is advocating for an absolute inversion of funding from roads to rail/bus/bikes.

    Further, better transit is designed to reduce use cost, so people who take the train to work can keep more of their paycheck instead of pouring it into their gas tank, and then take the train again and go spend money elsewhere when before they couldn’t afford it. Not to mention greater quality of life from reduced air/noise pollution. The Los Angeles example above covers all of those bases twice over.

    I agree that federal funds should go to national benefits. But only oil, auto, and teamsters benefit from less transit, and that’s certainly a smaller cohort than everyone else in the country. Decreasing road dependence is in the larger interest of our country.

  • Jack Jackson

    the word is “regulates” interstate commerce. if bike paths don’t facilitate interstate commerce, congress has no authority to regulate them

  • C Monroe

    So people who work in Chicago and live in southern Wisconsin, Northern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan use a train to go to work are not a form of interstate commerce? How about the same for NYC and its multi state metro area? Or person who lives in a suburb in Michigan and rides their bike to their job in the inner city of Toledo, Ohio?

  • Bolwerk

    Standardizing elements of the streetscape across the several states seems related to Congress’s power to regulate both interstate commerce and weights and measures.

    But TIGER is about funding bike lanes, not regulating them. The states/localities receiving the funding have the right to refuse.

  • Jack Jackson

    LOL at TIGER being about recovery. if it were about recovery, it would have been funded better

    TIGER is about earmarks for Democratic districts that towed the line for Obama.

  • JKP

    If a bike path goes to a different state it does facilitate interstate commerce. There are many that do.