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Pending Congressional Approval, Federal Budget Will Cut Important Transportation Grant Program

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project AssociateUnder the Trump administration’s recent budget proposal, a crucial grant program supporting capital investment for transportation projects across Ohio and the country is slated to be abolished. The federal program known as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants are earmarked to be eliminated, unless the House and Senate budget bills reverse the provision doing away with the program. Funding for TIGER, a program that was developed in 2009 as part of the federal Recovery Act, is allocated to state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and local jurisdictions by Congress following a merit-based award process. Should Congress decide to scrap the program, some planned transit, rail, and bike and pedestrian projects in Ohio could fail to produce the funds necessary for completion.

Since 2009, TIGER grantshave funneled over $4 billion to a variety of innovative transportation projects around the country, including transit, rail, port, road, and bike and pedestrian. Since the program’s inception, the annual program budget has declined over time, reducing the number of awarded projects, while applications have ramped up. The US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) latest round ofTIGER grant awards, known as TIGER VII, are set to deliver $500 million to various projects nationwide. In total, this amount will support 39 capital projects in 33 states. However, award amounts have been slowly declining since the initial TIGER I, which funded 51 separate capital projects in the form of $1.5 billion in award money.

Downtown overhead
Downtown overhead

Akron's downtown promenade was awarded a $5 million TIGER capital grant in 2016. Photo credit: AkronStock 

TIGER grants are immensely important in Ohio, where they offer needed funding assistance to multi-modal projects that would struggle to generate the necessary funding otherwise. For example, in 2015$6.8 million was awarded to Ohio to divide among sparsely-funded public transit agencies in rural areasof the state such as Athens, Wilmington, Chillicothe, Knox, Lancaster, Marion, Logan, and others. Moreover, theOpportunity Corridorproject, which is a path designed for transit, bikes, and pedestrians in northeast Ohio, along with thedowntown promenade in Akron, have enjoyed the fruits of grant awards in recent years. In total,Ohio has received over $79 millionfrom the TIGER program for transportation projects (see the table below for a year-by-year breakdown).

The success of the program is manifested by the substantial local investment it has spurred. USDOT calculates that TIGER’s initial investment has leveraged $1.74 billion in matching funds by state and local actors, including the private and public sectors contributing to the completion of the project. However, due to the program’s widespread appeal, acquiring TIGER grants have become increasingly more difficult. As local transportation projects face a dwindling supply of resources, the TIGER program has become more competitive given the increasing demand. Subsequently, many advocates have called for an expansion of the program to aid local governments in finishing important projects.

Scrapping the program entirely would represent a big blow to public transportation systems in Ohio in particular, given many local systems are insufficiently supported.The Ohio Department of Transportation's (ODOT)2015 Transit Needs Study estimates that Ohio’s public transportation systems suffer from a $192.5 million dollar funding shortfall in combined capital and operations needs. Moreover, the study finds that the state of Ohio spends just 63 cents per capita on public transportation over the course of each year, ranking Ohio 38th in the nation in its investment in this crucial policy area.

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) believes that Ohio’srecently-passed transportation budget, which includes a $10 million increase in flex funding for public transportation, is a positive step to modernizing the state’s transportation system. However, local systems will continue to struggle to meet the demands of riders, and the possible federal elimination of the TIGER program will increase the financial strain on cash-strapped agencies that are seeking the funds to ensure they can properly invest in their capital systems as well as operate sufficiently.

For more resources on transportation policy affecting Ohio’s cities and regions, please visit GOPC’sTransportation Modernization webpage.

TIGER Grants Total Award Amounts in Ohio

2009: $20 million

2010: $10.5 million

2011: $12.5 million

2012: $16 million

2013: no award

2014: $400,000

2015: $6.8 million

2016: $12.9 million

Grand Total: $79.1 million