DALLAS -- A popular, $500 million per year transportation grant program that a House appropriations panel voted to defund, will be left intact by its Senate counterpart, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriation Committee’s panel on transportation, housing and urban development and related agencies, said her subcommittee is working on a spending bill for fiscal 2018 that would include funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program.
“The Senate is proceeding with its own bill that will support proven economic and infrastructure development programs like TIGER,” Collins said.
“The TIGER grant program has provided essential funding to rebuild bridges, highways, freight rail, seaports, and other vital transportation projects across the country,” she said. “In addition to improving safety and efficiency, the TIGER grant program has created and saved much-needed jobs.”
TIGER grants have provided a total of $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and tribal communities since the program’s inception in 2009.
The House Appropriation Committee’s panel on transportation and housing and urban development on Tuesday approved a spending plan for fiscal 2018 that didn't provide any funding for TIGER. The full committee is expected to vote July 17 on the appropriations measure.
Collins is a long-time advocate of the TIGER program. In July 2015, she introduced legislation that would have made TIGER a permanent program, along with co-sponsors Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The measure was never taken up by a Senate committee.
TIGER was first authorized as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus in 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It must be renewed annually during the appropriations process.
The Trump Administration proposed eliminating TIGER in its budget for fiscal 2018, along with a several transit-oriented grant programs.
A fact sheet released with the administration’s budget measure recommended defunding TIGER because it "awards grants to projects that are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs."
The president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal requested $1.23 billion for the Capital Investment Grants overseen by the Federal Transit Administration, although 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act authorized $2.3 billion per year of the transit grants through fiscal 2020.
The 2018 spending plan adopted by the House appropriations panel funded the transit grants at $1.75 billion.
The omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2017 passed by Congress in early May appropriated $499 million for TIGER, but the Transportation Department has yet to solicit applications for this year’s grants.
TIGER’s flexibility is its biggest asset, said Beth Osborne, senior policy adviser for the advocacy group Transportation for America.
“This program is very popular with local and state governments and transportation agencies across the country because of its wide-ranging eligibility,” she said. “It can fund everything from ports to rails to transit to highways. Since the loss of earmarks, this is one of the only programs that allows local and county governments to directly access federal funds.”
According to the Transportation Department’s website, TIGER allows any public entity at the state, tribal, or local level “to obtain funding for multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional projects that are more difficult to support through traditional programs.”
The Transportation Department in July 2016 awarded $500 million of TIGER grants to 44 projects in the eighth round of the program. The projects were selected from 585 applications seeking a total of more than $9 billion.
During the previous seven rounds, more than 7,300 applications were submitted requesting more than $143 billion.