October 21, 2010

Port interests see funding gains in transport grant program

DOT disburses nearly $95 million to port projects in second phase of TIGER program.

By Mark B. Solomon

The nation's port interests were treated more favorably in the second round of federal infrastructure funding than they were in the initial cycle earlier this year, according to figures released late Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The DOT disbursed nearly $95 million in grant money to port projects in the second phase of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Program, currently known as TIGER II. The amount represents 17 percent of the nearly $557 million doled out by the DOT in the program's second cycle.

All told, port projects received seven of the 42 funding applications that were approved by the federal agency. The funds were made available through legislation appropriating transportation funding for fiscal year 2010.

In the first round of TIGER grants announced in February, port projects received only 8 percent of the $1.5 billion in funding, a ratio that left port interests deeply disappointed. The ports have said they should receive, at minimum, one-fourth of all TIGER grant funding, especially since other transport modes have already received funding though other unrelated programs.

The TIGER funding was seeded by the $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law by President Obama in February 2009.

The big winner was the Port of Miami, which received nearly $23 million to establish containerized rail intermodal service through the construction of an intermodal yard and a container rail transfer facility, as well as improvements in the existing rail and bridge infrastructure. The Port of Los Angeles received $16 million to build an intermodal rail yard with staging and storage tracks connecting on-dock rail yards with the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile long freight expressway linking downtown Los Angeles with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In a statement, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, said, "We applaud [DOT's] recognition of the critical role our nation's ports play and the increased federal support of TIGER II." Nagle said the new funding "moves us closer to the 25 percent of overall TIGER grant funding we believe is appropriate."

Overall, projects with what freight advocates labeled "a strong freight component" received $316 million, or 53 percent, of the nearly $600 million in available funding. Three of the top five projects and five of the top 10 were freight projects. Of the 42 projects that received funding, 14 were freight-specific, and an additional eight had a strong freight component, advocates said.

As with the first round of TIGER funding, there were far more applications than awards and many project bids did not make the cut. However, these applications may get another shot at the pot, as a third round of TIGER-style grants has been included in both the House and Senate fiscal 2011 transportation appropriations bills.

Congress has been unable to pass any appropriations measures so far this year. However, it is expected to address the issue during the so-called lame duck session following the November mid-year elections, according to Washington sources.

Though both chambers have requested funding in FY 2011 for TIGER-style grants, the Senate wants $800 million, while the House legislation seeks $400 million. In the past, the House and Senate have split the difference, meeting in the middle on funding. However, the results of this fall's elections may affect the amount of discretionary funding provided in the 2011 appropriations.

The funding for TIGER II projects comes amid what appears to be meaningful progress in pushing infrastructure funding through Congress. In mid-October, President Obama repeated his call for lawmakers to support a $50 billion infusion to the nation's transport programs that would occur during the upcoming lame-duck congressional session.

Obama laid out the framework—and the spending levels—during a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee. However, his comments in mid-October marked the first time the president requested that the funding take place during the lame-duck session.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Senior Editor
Mark Solomon has spent 25 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. Mr. Solomon graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

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