This from Environment & Energy Daily reporter Josh Vorhees, his March 25, 2010 story shortened here:
A widely popular transportation program created by last year’s stimulus package could see new life in the next multiyear highway bill.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she wants to include a provision similar to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program in the bill her panel is drafting.
The $1.5 billion grant program for innovative, long-term work is aimed at funding multimodal projects that have traditionally been difficult to fund through existing federal programs.
Boxer asked DOT officials for help in drafting the TIGER language that would be part of her highway legislation.
DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari said his agency would be willing to work with the EPW Committee and called the TIGER program key to the administration’s transportation goals, specifically efforts to shift more freight off the nation’s roads to increase mobility, and combat congestion and the fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions that accompany it.
“I think the TIGER grants point the way to the future in intermodal transportation,” Porcari said.
I wasn’t at the hearing at which the exchange took place but on the basis of this story I hear what sounds like a change of heart. Perhaps a change of heart that took place quite some time ago but it’s one that is worth noting nonetheless.
In early 2009 when the economic stimulus package was taking form Barbra Boxer spoke to attendees of a freight stakeholder gathering. In strong terms Boxer rejected what was the $5.5B proposal of her colleague, Patty Murray, chair of the transportation appropriations subcommittee. (Murray’s multi-modal discretionary grant proposal eventually was enacted at a $1.5B level and later dubbed TIGER grants by Secretary Ray LaHood.)
Barbara Boxer explanation included this: Murray’s discretionary grant proposal “takes Congress out” of the decision making. Not to worry, she elaborated, her planned surface transportation bill–MAP 21–would take care of large infrastructure projects through a projects of national and regional significance approach, much as contained in SAFETEA-LU.
Barbara Boxer’s response was disappointing to reform minded freight folk in the audience but not especially surprising. As chair of the Environment & Public Works Committee she would both write the next surface transportation bill and have great say over what projects to include in it.
So, here’s to Barbara Boxer for seeing the value in the TIGER experience and, apparently, trusting USDOT leadership to responsibly apply legislative and rulemaking parameters in the selection of projects. Here’s to any other legislators who had misgivings about giving the Administration the “discretion” but now see how it can work.
Perhaps Chairman Boxer also takes comfort in noting that some of the 51 selected projects in the first round are in districts and states of key transportation players in Congress. And that’s okay. We hardly expect grant selections to be done in antiseptic rooms totally devoid of political considerations. Pbea