Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
California

Expanded, Simplified TIFIA Still Greasing the Gears of Highway Expansion

The widening of SR 91 in Southern California is an example of the "innovative" TIFIA program providing more of the same. Image: ##http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist12/sr91_widening.htm## Caltrans##

A federal loan awarded to a California highway illustrates how TIFIA, the "innovative" transportation financing program that was expanded as part of MAP-21, is still funding business-as-usual highway projects.

U.S. DOT announced last week that it would back California's SR 91 highway expansion in suburban Los Angeles with $421 million in low-interest loans. The project is a $1.3 billion traditional freeway widening with no special environmental or social merits. It will extend two express lanes and add two additional lanes on an eight-mile stretch between the Inland Empire and Orange County, and relieve the "local commuter nightmare," according to Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA). The project was also the recipient of $20 million in TIGER grants.

Since the program launched in 1998, TIFIA has funded 32 projects to the tune of $10.5 billion. When it was dramatically expanded as part of MAP-21, guidelines for the federal loan program were changed so that essentially the only criterion for project acceptance is creditworthiness. Since then, observers have been wondering whether the "innovative" program would simply greenlight a backlog of highway projects. (Even when the program had more criteria attached to its loans, the Government Accountability Office found that it tilted toward "large highway projects.")

While most TIFIA projects are about moving cars, not all of them are. Since MAP-21 was enacted, TIFIA has funded $219 million in transit and pedestrian projects -- including the Orange Line Expansion in Dallas and the Chicago Riverwalk -- and just more than $1 billion in highway projects, including SR 91. That's about five dollars in highway spending for every dollar spent on sustainable transportation. This is basically the same split that existed before MAP-21. The GAO found that in 2010 and 2011, 16.6 percent of TIFIA funds were spent on transit.

Awarding this TIFIA loan was one of the first moves by new U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. In a press release last week, Foxx oddly called the road an example of "fix-it-first" policy, although it is quite clearly a road-widening project. “This project is a job creator that will improve mobility in the region and better connect Orange and Riverside counties," Foxx said.

Will TIFIA continue to fund more of these "innovative" projects to build new highway lanes? It seems likely.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Go Back to the Future

If you liked the first Trump administration's transportation policies, you're going to love the second Trump administration's transportation policies.

July 19, 2024

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024

Friday Video: Paris Does it Again

Come for the bike-friendly streets, but stay for adopt-a-tree program and all the car-free school roadways.

July 19, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: IrrePLACEable

Kevin Kelley on his book Irreplaceable: How to Create Extraordinary Places that Bring People Together, and the future of downtowns.

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024
See all posts