Marine Transportation System

Bill Sez “Nah” to Funding Ports/Freight with NII

In Federal Government on August 4, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Interesting.  When in February Congress sent the huge economic recovery package a.k.a. ARRA, to the White House for signature many folks were pleased that it contained a new $1.5bn multimodal discretionary grant program for the  Transportation Secretary to allocate.  House and Senate appropriators are not known for giving department chiefs  large sums  of money to spend on this or that.  Nor has Congress been in the habit of allowing the Office of the Secretary (OST) the discretion to grant funds outside the tightly prescribed modal grant programs and, for that matter, for projects not already earmarked.  So, when the authority to spend $1.5bn was sent to Secretary Ray LaHood  observers knew much was at stake.  Might this open the door to additional multimodal appropriations or to a new program that would be included in the eventual successor to SAFETEA-LU?

Just a few months later we have a partial answer.  Senate Appropriators included in the FY 2010 DOT spending bill (HR 3288) yet another, but not identical, multimodal discretionary grant program.  This time it is $1.1bn for National Infrastructure Investments (NII).  It seems to resemble the $1.5bn pot that Secretary LaHood has dubbed TIGER grants–applications for which are due at USDOT September 15th.  The Senate committee summary indicates the grants are “to support significant transportation projects in a wide variety of modes, including highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight railroads, and port infrastructure.”   But according to Jeff Davis of the very reliable Transportation Weekly the intent is not to support certain port and freight related projects that are outside of the Title 23 (highways, etc) and Title 49 (transit) eligible project categories.  Jeff says it does not include this TIGER grant language from the stimulus bill that opened the door to “port infrastructure investments, including projects that connect ports to other modes of transportation and improve the efficiency of freight movement.

Wading in more deeply…here is where it is a bit confusing.  Title 23 eligible projects do include some freight related projects such as “intermodal transfer” and “public freight rail” facilities. As for ports  Title 23  even includes (but limit  eligibility to) certain projects within a port terminal’s gate that facilitate the “direct intermodal interchange, transfer and access” in and out of the port.  So how does that differ from the underlined above?   Maybe the answer is somewhere in this supplemental description of the TIGER grant program that would invite, for example, vessel projects that otherwise meet TIGER grant criteria.

So, why NII and not TIGER II?  Could this represent some disapproval of  the Secretary’s recent encouraging words to the effect that TIGER grants enable a change in policy that to date has offered port/maritime related infrastructure little or no Federal program assistance?  Let’s hope not.  More to learn.

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