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The Value of TIGER Discretionary Grants

by Danny Blitch on February 18, 2015
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TIGER Discretionary Grants for 2015, overview of the USDOT program and priorities for 2015Tigers are the largest cats in the world. Fittingly, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grants are some of the largest grants in the United States. Managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), TIGER grants go toward capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure. Eligible surface transportation infrastructure projects include:

  • Highway or bridge projects including bicycle and pedestrian projects
  • Public transportation projects
  • Passenger and freight rail transportation projects
  • Port infrastructure investments
  • Intermodal projects

On December 16, 2014, President Obama signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which included a $500 million authorization for National Infrastructure Investments, referred to by the USDOT as TIGER Discretionary Grants. That’s a large TIGER! (You can read more about previous years’ solicitations.)

Planning a TIGER Project

TIGER Discretionary Grants cannot be less than $10 million (except in rural areas, where the minimum is $1 million) and not greater than $200 million. As you can imagine, $10 million projects are very large and complicated. Even $1 million rural projects can get complicated very quickly. The grant reviewers are unknown, anonymous, and notoriously picky. So you can forget what they taught us in school about knowing your audience when writing!

TIGER grant projects must be regionally significant and far enough along to be identified in state and regional transportation planning documents. The state and regional planning process is different for every state. The basics are the same: The infrastructure improvements must be engineered, the cost estimates, environmental reviews, right-of-way (ROW) acquired/certified, and the required local match obligated. Competitive projects need over-match and a positive cost-benefit analysis.

NOTE: The 2015 TIGER Notice of Funding Availability was released in early April. Pre-applications are due by May 4, 2015, and final applications are due June 5, 2015. Read about this year's solicitation here and contact eCivis if you're looking for application assistance.

Reviewers will be looking for projects that improve the nation’s transportation situation and address one or all of the USDOT’s strategic priorities. According to the USDOT in 2014, the department “received 797 eligible applications from 49 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.” Last year, TIGER projects requested 15 times more than the $600 million available, or $9.5 billion for needed transportation projects.  The reviewers deserve their picky reputation. Below are two lists showing some examples of why TIGER is so important and popular, as well as the grant's requirements.

TIGER’s Importance

  • TIGER projects selected for an award will have a significant impact on the nation, metropolitan area, or region.
  • For projects located in rural areas, the minimum TIGER Discretionary Grant size is $1 million.
  • TIGER Planning Grants have no statutory minimum grant size, regardless of location.
  • TIGER Discretionary Grants may be used for up to 80 percent of the costs of a project.
  • USDOT may increase the federal share above 80 percent only for projects located in rural areas, in which case USDOT may fund up to 100 percent of the costs of a project.

TIGER’s Teeth

  • The narrative cannot exceed 30 pages.
  • The TIGER grant must be submitted online at Grants.gov. USDOT strongly encourages applicants to submit applications in advance of the deadline.
  • In the first five grant application rounds, on average TIGER projects attracted more than 3.5 additional non-federal dollars for every TIGER grant dollar. Thus, for example, grant awards of $5 million were matched by more than $15 million.
  • Primary Selection Criteria: The five primary selection criteria are based on the priorities included in USDOT’s Strategic Plan for FYs 2012-2016.
  • USDOT will consider whether the project furthers the six “Livability Principles” developed by USDOT with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Read more on this.
  • USDOT is particularly interested in projects that apply innovative strategies to improve the efficiency of project development or improve overall project delivery in the area.
  • Applicants must include a detailed project schedule that includes all major project milestones, such as start and completion of environmental reviews and approvals; design; right-of-way acquisition, and so on.
  • Applicants will be expected to prepare and submit an analysis of benefits and costs for items such as surveys, travel demand forecasts, market forecasts, and statistical analyses.
  • Proposed project is required to be included in the relevant state, metropolitan, and local planning documents.
  • All regionally significant projects requiring an action by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must be in the metropolitan transportation plan, transportation improvement program (TIP) and statewide transportation improvement program (STIP).
  • The TIGER projects will build ladders of opportunity to help Americans get to the middle class by providing for families working hard to lift themselves up.

Past TIGER Winners

Atlanta: TIGER funds will leverage $43 million to construct 2.5 miles of the 22-mile Atlanta Beltline Corridor, a system of trails, transit and parks circling downtown Atlanta and connecting more than 45 communities throughout the city and region. The City of Atlanta and Atlanta Beltline Inc. have already begun building the Atlanta Beltline project, which will serve SW Atlanta, an economically disadvantaged area home to a large environmental justice population.

Fort Lauderdale: TIGER dollars will be used to leverage an additional $65 million from the Florida DOT, the City of Fort Lauderdale, and the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization to build a new streetcar line in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Houston: TIGER funds will be used to eliminate major gaps in Houston’s bike grid, providing direct bicycle and pedestrian transportation connections to local bus stops and rail stations. The TIGER grant will build 7.9 miles of on-street bike lanes, 2.8 miles of sidewalks, and 7.5 miles of off-street paths for use by bicyclists and pedestrians to connect to transit services.

Reno-Sparks, Nevada: TIGER funds will be used to construct the 4th Street/Prater Way RAPID Transit Project. The project may also include upgraded electric buses and additional electric charging infrastructure. This urban transit project will connect downtown Reno and Sparks, Nevada, with enhanced, 24-hour bus rapid transit (BRT) service, accessible sidewalks, and bike lanes.

Grant procedures for effective grants management

Topics: Funding News

4 min read time