Freight Rail, Streetcars Are Tops in Stimulus’ TIGER Chase

The Obama administration today announced the winners of $1.5 billion stimulus in highly competitive stimulus grants under the program known as Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER. Southeastern and midwestern freight rail projects were the day’s biggest winners, with urban streetcar projects also making a big splash.

chicago.jpgFreight rail in Chicago, where the CREATE project won $100 million in federal stimulus aid. (Photo: NSTPRSC)

Atop the list of TIGER grants [PDF] was a $105 million infusion for the Alabama and Tennessee sections of the Crescent Corridor, an ambitious Norfolk Southern project that would divert shipping traffic from trucks to trains while upgrading passenger rail service from the Gulf Coast through the Mid-Atlantic region.

CREATE, a seven-year-old effort to enhance freight mobility in the Chicago area by creating auto and pedestrian routes around rail tracks as well as separations between passenger and freight routes, netted $100 million from the TIGER fund.

The No. 3 TIGER winner was also a freight corridor: The National Gateway plan, aimed at boosting capacity on three CSX rail shipping lines in Ohio and Pennsylvania, won $98 million, or more than half of the project’s estimated remaining costs.

Among the several cities who sought stimulus grants to construct new streetcar lines, Tuscon ($63 million), Dallas ($23 million), and New Orleans ($45 million) emerged victorious. The latter city was singled out by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for a December announcement of new streetcar grants, seen at the time as a boost to its chances for federal aid.

Kansas City’s streetcar appeared to fall short, but its local Green Impact Zone project won $50 million in funding for a slate of upgrades that includes local transit access points.

Another category of project that fared well in TIGER — in which the U.S. DOT put different transportation modes on the same footing, rather than operating under bureaucratic "silos" that separated roads from transit — was projects to unite foot, car, transit, and bike traffic under one roof. Epitomizing this type of proposal was the Twin Cities’ $35 million grant to renovate the St. Paul Union Depot into a state-of-the-art transfer point for all types of local travelers.

The Boston suburb of Revere also got $20 million to replace aging parking lots with a modern transit facility that includes pedestrian and bike improvements, and the Central Illinois city of Normal received a $22 million grant to create a similar new hub that will allow bus, train, bike, and car travelers to transfer between modes.

Road projects were not entirely shut out of the running, with Texas’ tolled Highway 161 receiving $20 million in grants to support a new $400 million loan from the U.S. DOT’s TIFIA program, which provides federal financing for local infrastructure work.

John Robert Smith, the CEO of the pro-rail group Reconnecting America, hailed the TIGER program as a model for the next long-term federal transportation bill. Smith noted in a statement that 53 percent of the TIGER funding went to local governments and transit agencies rather than getting routed through state DOTs — a major complaint from mayors during the drafting of the stimulus law’s transportation spending provisions.

needs to build on this success and authorize the surface transportation program
along similar lines to support innovation and integrated transportation
solutions in communities of all sizes," he said.

6 thoughts on Freight Rail, Streetcars Are Tops in Stimulus’ TIGER Chase

  1. Lots of garbage in that list of projects. New Orleans didn’t even put in a cent of local match. Multiple highway expansion and bypass projects that will create sprawl. Bus barns in small cities. Lots of projects in communities represented by anti-infrastructure spending GOP politicians. What a missed opportunity to funnel spending into urban communities that have suffered for decades. Instead, it’s just more of the same.

  2. MAT,

    You single out New Orleans as being undeserving since they don’t have any local matching funds, yet then state they missed an opportunity for infrastructure development in long suffering urban areas? This is a remarkably contradictory statement. NOLA is the epitome of a long suffering urban area, and the streetcar lines will directly serve the urban downtown areas of the Central Business District, French Quarter, and Marigny. Would it be better if the contracts went to rich areas that can afford to match funds? New Orleans is struggling with a greatly diminished tax base since Katrina and has priorities greater than streetcar investment, but this investment by the Feds will help them draw that population back.

  3. MAT, New Orleans pretty much wrote the book on “long-suffering urban area” and is a Democratic city that just elected a new Democratic mayor with a 61% first-ballot landslide. The only way we’ll get money for stuff like streetcar expansion is from the feds – you think Governor Jindal will give us a dime from a state pass-through?

    Thanks for your well-wishes, though

  4. The fact that “Kansas City’s streetcar appeared to fall short,” as the story reads, was actually a relief to a lot of us. Neither the MPO nor the transit agency wanted to even ask for the $6 million at this time to do further study, but one of our councilmen insisted on including it in the package submitted by our MPO, Mid-America Regional Council.

  5. Are you telling me that the City of New Orleans could not afford any cash match whatsoever? Really? Take a look at the list of unfunded TIGER requests, many of which are from cities that have been in decline since the 1950s, and you’ll find locales that took seriously DOT’s call for preference to projects that have a local financial commitment. We all feel bad for New Orleans and all, but is now really the time for us to be subsidizing a streetcar extension that clearly is not high on the City’s priority list?

    I know the Upstate NY Rust Belt cities of Buffalo, Rochester, and/or Syracuse do not have the same cache as NOLA, but each of their TIGER proposals was much more likely to produce long-term economic growth and each of those cities has at least as much economic distress. ROC’s specifically was lesser in cost, carried a 20% local match, and would have removed a sunken expressway moat around a corner of its growing downtown area and replaced it with a “complete” boulevard. Their proposal would free up 8 acres of land for redevelopment and public space, thereby directly creating thousands of jobs in a city reeling from industrial decline. I guess Upstate NY needs a natural disaster to get the federal government’s attention.

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