Putting TIGER Spending in Perspective

Federal spending on TIGER compared to the total cost of various U.S. highway projects. Image: Streetsblog
Federal spending on TIGER compared to the total cost of various U.S. highway projects. Image: Streetsblog

The House’s current transportation spending bill calls for reducing the share of federal spending that goes to TIGER, a grant program for sustainable transportation projects in cities, from $500 to $100 million. The budget, meanwhile, holds highway funding steady.

Indianapolis' cultural trail is one of about 200 projects that have been funded through TIGER over its four-plus year history. Image: Visit Indy
Indianapolis’s cultural trail is one of about 200 projects that have been funded through TIGER over its four-plus year history. Image: Visit Indy

TIGER is an enormously popular program. In its second year, it received close to 1,000 applications totaling $19 billion from communities in every U.S. state. At that time, there was just $600 million in funding available. Last year it was reduced to $500 million.

Despite its overwhelming popularity, TIGER is constantly in jeopardy. Yet transportation project austerity does not seem to apply to highways. To illustrate, we thought it’d be interesting to compare the cost of a few highway projects to total TIGER funding. Keep in mind that TIGER funds about 50 innovative projects annually, from the Indianapolis Cultural Trail to Cleveland’s University Circle Rapid Station. The result is in the graph above.

Now, a little about those highway projects:

Portsmouth, Ohio, Bypass

This joint project of U.S. DOT and the Ohio Department of Transportation will build a 16-mile, four-lane highway around the town of 20,000. It will cost $630 million.

Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange

The rebuilding and widening of this major interchange in Milwaukee will cost an astounding $1.7 billion — more than three times the cost of TIGER.

Houston’s Grand Parkway

This under-construction third outerbelt for Houston continues moving forward despite its jaw-dropping $5.2 billion price tag and TxDOT’s ongoing financial struggles. One of its leading proponents told Streetsblog that the project could not be justified by existing traffic but was intended to stoke sprawling development.

Louisville’s Ohio River Bridges Project

A rendering of an interchange that will be constructed near downtown Louisville as part of the $2.5 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Image: 8664
A rendering of an interchange that will be constructed near downtown Louisville as part of the $2.5 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Image: 8664

This massive $2.5 billion project will construct two semi-redundant bridges over the Ohio River and help speed commuters from bedroom communities into downtown. The project also includes an absolutely massive interchange that badly mars the city’s riverfront.

Orange County’s Interstate 405 Expansion

This project just got the final nod Monday. It will add one toll lane in each direction on Interstate 405 for 14 miles between Long Beach and Costa Mesa, despite years of loud protests, for a cool $1.7 billion — more than enough to fund TIGER for more than three years.

  • Dave

    It makes me sick to my stomach.

  • Southeasterner

    I’m torn. TIGER is filling in a void in funding left by underfunded and overly car-centric state DOTs, which compounds the problem as now state DOTs can push all TIGER eligible projects to their unfunded or partial funded lists. In a way TIGER has made the funding problem worse in many states. But take away TIGER and it’s highly doubtful that any state DOTs are going to restore the little funding they were providing to local agencies before TIGER existed.

    I would say reducing TIGER funding is a worse outcome than canceling the program.

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