WASHINGTON - At least two toll authorities are competing for funds from a federal grant program set up under the stimulus law after several others helped finance their projects with Build America Bonds, which also were authorized by the stimulus package.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department plans to submit an application by Sept. 15 for a $145.4 million discretionary grant through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program, which was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The grant would be used to help finance the first toll road in the state.
"This is the first, unless you go back to the days you paid a quarter to go across the road or something," said Glenn Bolick, spokesman for the Arkansas transportation department. "Back in the early '70s was the last time we had a toll. It was on a bridge."
At least one other tolling authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay area, plans to seek TIGER grant funds to help pay for a project that also will be financed with toll revenues.
Arkansas will seek the TIGER grant to help the state pay for development of the $225 million Bella Vista bypass toll road, which would extend into Missouri.
"We were trying to build it as a free road, but we didn't have enough money," Bolick said. The state could cover about $80 million of the project cost using "typical" funding sources including bonds, he said. Toll revenue will be used to repay that debt.
Under the TIGER grant program, the U.S. Department of Transportation will award $1.5 billion of discretionary funds for surface transportation projects. The grantees will receive between $20 million and $300 million per project. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he expects to announce awards from the program in January, one month earlier than the statutory deadline for awarding them.
As a result of the relatively small amount of funding available for the TIGER program and other transportation-related stimulus grants, many prospective applicants have kept their requests at a minimum in hopes of being chosen.
The Arkansas Highway Commission decided to seek a TIGER grant that would cover the expected funding shortfall for Bella Vista.
The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to support Arkansas' application, but will not seek any TIGER funding for its portion of the project, according to MoDOT spokeswoman Lori Marble. Missouri will be responsible for a small portion of the bypass and has had funding set aside "for a couple of years," Marble said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has urged California to request TIGER funds for several projects, including $50 million for the replacement of Doyle Drive, the existing south access road to the Golden Gate Bridge. That $1.045 billion project is expected to be paid for with a combination of federal grants, stimulus funds, state funds, and local sources, including MTC bridge toll revenues.
The TIGER grant applications will follow the issuance of BABs by several states for toll projects. BABs, which were created by the same legislation that created TIGER grants, are taxable bonds, but issuers can receive direct cash subsidies from the federal government equal to 35% of the interest payments.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority issued $1.75 billion of 30-year toll revenue BABs in April to help fund its capital program.
Illinois State Toll Highway Authority sold $500 million of the debt in May to help fund its rehabilitation program.
The Florida Department of Transportation sold $255 million of turnpike revenue BABs in June.
The North Carolina Turnpike Authority sold $353 million of state annual appropriation revenue BABs last month to help fund the Triangle Expressway.
Earlier this month, the North Texas Tollway Authority sold $825 million of BABs as part of a $1.4 billion bond sale partly to pay for new projects.