Freight interests have long complained about not having a "seat at the table" when the federal government doles out money for infrastructure projects. But if the latest round of infrastructure disbursements is any indication, there may be a chair waiting for freight after all.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Feb. 17 that it disbursed $1.5 billion in funds through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Program, known as TIGER. Of the 51 applications that were approved out of 1,400 submitted, 22 contained what the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), a group pushing for more infrastructure funds for freight projects, called a "strong freight component." The 22 projects, which collectively received more than $730 million, were awarded 49 percent of the available funds, according to CAGTC.The awards included $105 million for Norfolk Southern Corp.'s $2.5 billion, 2,500-mile "Crescent Corridor" intermodal route stretching from New Jersey to Louisiana; $98 million for CSX Corp.'s "National Gateway" intermodal project linking the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, and $20 million for rail-related improvements at Mississippi's Port of Gulfport, which state officials say will help the port better compete for Panama Canal traffic when a dramatically expanded canal becomes operational in 2014.
The TIGER program is part of the $787 billion stimulus plan that recently marked its first anniversary. Of the total amount, $27.5 billion was earmarked for highway and bridge construction projects, a figure many considered woefully low given the antiquated state of the U.S. infrastructure and the job-creation potential offered by highway projects.
The DOT "announcement reaffirms that the most effective way to invest in the nation's multimodal infrastructure is through objective, merit-based criteria," said Mortimer Downey, CAGTC chairman, in a statement. "These commerce-moving projects create jobs and economic benefit up and down the supply chain, in addition to the immediate job-generating construction."
CAGTC said it has asked Congress and the administration to appropriate an additional $5 billion to the TIGER program as an "immediate opportunity for fast, effective, and meaningful infrastructure investment." According to DOT, the government received applications for $60 billion in projects, 40 times the amount available through the program. As a result, many worthy projects did not receive funding, CAGTC said.
According to published reports, the Obama administration has proposed $4 billion in funding in its fiscal year 2011 budget for a new program called the National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund.