Rail Wins Big With TIGER

WASHINGTON — State and local transportation authorities in more than 40 states will receive a total of $1.5 billion in grant or loan subsidy funds to support 51 projects that range from port revitalization to toll roads and streetcars.

Seven projects in 12 states will receive more than $50 million, and three projects in Alaska, Montana, and Vermont at the other end of the list will receive less than $4 million.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's announcement yesterday of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants was well-received by winning applicants, but questions lingered about how the state DOTs would use some of the funding allocations.

In keeping with the Obama administration's plan to strengthen U.S. rail, the largest three grants went to freight transportation.

The Crescent Corridor Intermodal Freight Rail Project in Tennessee and Alabama received the largest purse, $105 million, or about half the cost to build the project's two intermodal facilities in Memphis and Birmingham.

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, a bundle of 78 freight rail congestion-relief projects under a public-private partnership, will receive $100 million, or almost two-thirds the total cost of the projects.

The third-highest grant — $98 million — will support a $183 million freight-rail corridor spanning Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland.

That corridor is expected to become part of a National Gateway Project on "three major freight rail corridors owned and operated by CSX through the Midwest and along the Atlantic Coast," according to a U.S. DOT description of the project.

Other large grants include $83 million for the Moynihan Station project in Manhattan; $63 million for a 3.9-mile streetcar line in Tucson; $58.8 million for bus transit in the Washington, D.C., metro area; and $55.5 million to extend commuter rail west from Fitchburg, Mass.

But some of the awards came with stipulations that left some market participants scratching their heads: three of the grants will, or can, double as loan subsidies to support loans from a separate federal program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

The TIFIA program offers low-interest loans and credit assistance from the federal government and has been oversubscribed for about two years, which recently forced officials to close the door to new applications.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave the transportation secretary the option of using up to $200 million of the $1.5 billion available under TIGER to help fund TIFIA loans. TIFIA subsidies average about 8% to 10% of the total project investment, DOT officials have said.

A spokesperson from the DOT confirmed that for the TIGER awards that include TIFIA options, states can decide whether to take a straight-up grant or use that dollar amount to support TIFIA loans.

The North Texas Tollway Authority will receive $20 million from TIGER to support a TIFIA loan for up to one-third the cost of its $1.3 billion State Highway 161 project around Dallas.

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department can use its $10 million TIGER grant to support a TIFIA loan for up to one-third of its $358.1 million Bella Vista Bypass, a project it is undertaking with Missouri.

In its TIGER application, Arkansas had requested $145 million, with the hope that they would also get a TIFIA loan.

"The amount we applied for was the shortfall [in project funding] even using all the options," said spokesman Randy Ort, adding that it appears the $10 million is split between Arkansas and Missouri. Nevertheless, he said, "we're hearing that we were one of the 51" award winners and are "exploring our options."

Similarly, the North Carolina Department of Transportation can use its $10 million TIGER grant to support a TIFIA loan for up to one-third of its $374 million to $461 million Interstate 85 Corridor Improvement and Yadkin River Crossing project.

"We applied for $300 million and got $10 million, and at this point in time, we are examining the options that are before us," said North Carolina DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty.

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