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U.S. DOT Releases Rules for ‘TIGER II’ Grants, Bringing HUD on Board

The U.S. DOT today released its first round of guidance for the
so-called "TIGER II" program, a $600 million pot of competitive
transportation grants considered a quasi-sequel to the popular $1.5
billion merit-based
fund
included in last year's stimulus law.

ibmribboncutting.jpgA ribbon-cutting in Dubuque, Iowa,
where a broad revamping of downtown development won TIGER grant money.
(Photo: Gazette)

Perhaps
the biggest news in today's announcement was the U.S. DOT's intention
to marry its decision-making on the new TIGER-esque grants with the
process for allocating $40 million in land-use aid at the Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If the two agencies can sustain
that goal past the period of public comment on the new grants that
begins this week, their move would take the cooperative ethos that has
defined the Obama administration's sustainable
communities effort
to the next level.

In its preliminary TIGER II guidance, published in today's Federal
Register, the U.S. DOT wrote that officially linking its grant
decision-making with HUD's would ideally "encourage and reward more
holistic planning efforts and result in better projects being built with
federal dollars" by recognizing the inextricable connection between
transportation and local planning.

The U.S. DOT's criteria for choosing TIGER II winners differ in
several notable respects from those for the original program. At least
$140 million of the new grants are required to go to rural areas, and
localities selected to receive federal funding would need
to provide
a 20 percent match -- a requirement that had been waived
for the original TIGER competition in view of the economic downturn.

The element of urgency that defined TIGER bids is also easing up
for the new round of transport grants.

While the stimulus restricted the
U.S. DOT to picking TIGER proposals that could be completed by spring
2012, no such limit exists for the second incarnation of the program.
The original rules for TIGER applicants also emphasized projects'
ability to drive short-term job creation; while local economic benefits
are considered a primary metric for the new $600 million in grants, the
U.S. DOT wrote that applicants "will need to be competitive on the
merits of the medium to long-term impacts" of their TIGER II pitches.

The secondary metrics for TIGER II bids are innovation and
partnership, with the latter referring to proposals' emphasis on
collaboration among local governmental bodies to implement the projects
in question.

Grant applicants are expected to measure the anticipated upsides of
their transportation visions as specifically as possible, but the U.S.
DOT guidance also acknowledged the expensive nature and inherent
limitations of cost-benefit analysis -- which became a major factor in its
January decision
to de-emphasize "cost-effectiveness" calculations
for federally funded transit construction. From today's release:

DOT can consider some factors that do not readily lendthemselves to quantification or monetization, including equitablegeographic distribution of grant funds and an appropriate balance inaddressing the needs of urban and rural areas and investment in avariety of transportation modes ... DOT recognizes that some categoriesof costs and benefits are more difficult to quantify or monetize thanothers.

Public comments on the preliminary criteria for TIGER II and the HUD
planning grants will be accepted until May 7, with a final joint notice
by the U.S. DOT and HUD expected by the last week of May. Overall, the
process is expected to conclude with the naming of grant winners by
September 15.

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