Endangered TIGER: The House threatens a map to success

By NARP interns Less Henderson, Colin Leach, and Logan McLeod

The House Appropriations Committee voted 27-21 on June 27th to discontinue the TIGER program for FY 2014, as well as slash current awarded grants for FY 2013. The vote, which rejected an amendment offered by Rep. David Price (D-NC) to restore TIGER funding to 2013 levels, affirms the committee’s earlier decision to cancel future grants and starve existing projects of funds.

In justifying the cuts, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) argued that, given limited fiscal resources, there was no real alternative. He suggested that the committee’s budget reflected the House’s “dual goal” of focusing investments on transportation infrastructure “critical to the economy” while also reducing the deficit. Rep. Tom Latham, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, specifically singled out TIGER for criticism, claiming that it was “walking-around” money for the administration that did not address what he termed the needs of “basic infrastructure.”

Yet his suggestion that the budget invests in infrastructure while dismantling a popular, effective grant program is tenuous. Since its introduction in 2009, TIGER has enjoyed wide popularity among state and local officials as well as private industry as a means of coordinating private-public partnerships and as a conduit for federal funding. In the program’s first four cycles, the Department of Transportation received 4,000 project proposals. Available funds permitted only 268 projects, only 6.7% of the total, to be even partially funded. For the FY2014 cycle, 600 applications have already been received for a total of $9 billion in requested funding, far exceeding the $474 million allocated.

Apart from the program’s stated function of funding projects that are “otherwise difficult to fund” and creating new economic investment, TIGER plays a critical role in forging public-private partnerships. One excellent example of this is the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, which brings together not just federal, local, and state agencies, but also six major freight railroads and Amtrak. Under CREATE’s aegis, 70 different projects will improve rail conditions and average speed in the Chicago area by eliminating grade crossings, performing sorely needed track repairs, and separating freight and passenger rail onto different passing tracks. In total, the CREATE projects are expected to generate more than 17,000 jobs in the Chicago area by 2020. Additionally, CREATE’s investments will add no less than $22 billion to the local economy by the same period, producing benefits for business and consumers alike. Were it not for TIGER, a program of CREATE’S complexity could never have become reality.

CREATE is but one example of how TIGER, despite Chairman Latham’s comments to the contrary, actually invests in “basic infrastructure”. Referring to NARP’s map below, you can see that TIGER’s benefits are felt throughout the country in ways both great and small. Cancelling TIGER now not only eliminates future funding, but also jeopardizes the progress of any of the 600 applications currently under consideration. At a time where our economy is still plagued by slow growth, it must be asked whether or not it is prudent for Congress to eliminate practical investment in tomorrow’s transportation needs. If the House truly wishes to invest in “basic infrastructure”, it should realize its error and restore TIGER funding.

Click to view interactive map.