I’m not sure if this is a troubling sign but Sally Fields comes to mind when I think of TIGER grants.
Those are the multi-modal, discretionary grants that were created in the economic stimulus bill Congress approved last February. The pleased folks at USDOT dubbed the program TIGER–a suitable acronym–and put flesh on the bones. Pleased because this was one of those rare times when Congress was willing to say: “Here, Mr. Secretary, is 1,500,000,000 dollars for you to spend, outside of existing modal grant programs, at your discretion.“
And with a reform-oriented SAFETEA-LU sequel due to be written by Congress it was not lost on USDOT that if the TIGER program were managed well–whatever “well” might mean to congressional overseers–it could be a model for replication. USDOT may be entrusted to award more competitive grants on the basis of project merit and worth to the country. Imagine that. (Indeed, the Senate DOT appropriations bill for FY 2010 includes $1.1 Bn for additional TIGER grants.)
In the months that followed enactment of the $750 Bn stimulus package–some $48 Bn of which was allocated to USDOT for near term implementation–Secretary Ray LaHood told port officials and others involved in the MTS that port project applications would be welcomed for TIGER grants. He told the D.C. Propeller Club audience in May that the maritime sector has been neglected and TIGER grants were an opportunity.
Well, the ports listened. Shades of Sally Fields! When in 1985 she won her second golden statue for her role in Places in the Heart the former “Flying Nun” famously cried, “You really like me!”
The ports took to heart the Secretary’s encouragement. He really wanted them to apply for grants and apply they did. Ninety-five applications were submitted for port related projects totaling $3.3 Bn. Certainly the smallest of the modal slices on the pie chart, but not an overwhelming difference when compared to rail.
Toward what end? We’ll learn in February what projects are approved and how many are for ports. The TIGER grants and pending legislation to grant MARAD infrastructure improvement authorities are signs that change may be in the wind. The Feds are becoming more open to assisting ports with more than just channel construction and maintenance. Certainly MARAD is eager to claim new program areas. And some of the ports, perhaps an increasing number, are welcoming the help of Uncle Sam…maybe even inside the gate. Pbea