WASHINGTON, DC – After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced plans to significantly modify the bipartisan Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program by favoring state and local governments that raise taxes or impose tolls in order to be competitive for federal assistance for transportation infrastructure improvement projects, two leading U.S. Senators who oversee DOT funding are warning this is a misguided attempt to insert controversial policies that will alter the highly successful TIGER program. 

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), who helm the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD), sent a letter urging the Trump Administration to reconsider its proposal to impose changes that not only lack support from Congress, but some of which remain unproven and controversial. 

The Senators wrote: “we are concerned with the Department’s decision to insert controversial policies from the Administration’s infrastructure proposal into the TIGER grant program, which could diminish the effectiveness of this grant program.  These policies have not been agreed to or voted on by Congress, and there is clear bipartisan opposition to some of them.”

The letter continues: “Our primary concern is the use of non-Federal revenue for transportation infrastructure investment as merit criteria in evaluating applications.  The NOFO requires applicants to secure and commit new, non-Federal revenue for transportation infrastructure investment, which will effectively force states to increase taxes or raise revenue through tolls or other fees.  As you know, most state departments of transportation, transit agencies, port authorities, and metropolitan planning organizations are not able to raise revenue without enactment of a law by an independent legislative body.  Holding transportation agencies responsible for raising revenue is simply unrealistic and detrimental to this grant program.  While the NOFO allows applicants to describe broader legal or fiscal constraints that affect their ability to generate non-Federal revenue, it is unfair to ask transportation agencies that are in the business of building infrastructure to explain and defend the policy decisions made by an independent and political legislative body.”

In addition to these changes, the Administration has also rebranded the TIGER program under a new name, “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program.”

Collins and Reed, along with their colleagues Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kit Bond (R-MO), helped create the TIGER grant program in 2009.  The Trump Administration sought to end the TIGER grant program in its latest budget request, but Senators Collins and Reed successfully led efforts to triple funding for TIGER—from $500 million to $1.5 billion in the fiscal year 2018 funding bill that was recently signed into law.

The Trump Administration has also stated that it wants to place an added emphasis on projects located in rural areas with a mandate that at least 30 percent of discretionary grants be awarded to projects located in rural areas.  However, Collins and Reed noted that the BUILD program’s new criteria could negatively impact many rural communities’ ability to compete for funds, writing: “The Department clearly recognizes that there may be broader legal or fiscal constraints that affect an applicant’s ability to generate non-Federal revenue, but this simply reinforces our point that TIGER/BUILD is not suitable for testing new policies at this time. The criteria will be particularly detrimental to rural areas that are often least able to raise local revenue for transportation infrastructure.  As the NOFO states, rural roads have higher fatality rates and maintain a greater share of road miles than others, but it is unclear how the Department will balance the needs of rural America with its new criteria to generate non-Federal revenue.”

Senators Collins and Reed have long advocated for a balanced, bipartisan transportation policy – that includes roads and transit as well as urban and rural investments.  The senators say that TIGER grants were designed to benefit communities of all sizes in all areas of the country.  They urge the Administration to continue the success of past rounds of TIGER grants, and remove unnecessary barriers to funding much-need infrastructure projects going forward.

Click HERE to read the letter.