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By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
The congressional debate continues on a long-term surface transportation funding measure, but a popular federal transportation program received an influx of dollars last month.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) on April 2 announced $500 million is available for the seventh round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The federal government previously allocated $600 million for TIGER VI, $475 million for TIGER V and $500 million for TIGER IV grants.
TIGER VII grants will be awarded on a competitive basis to transportation projects that have a significant impact on the nation, a region or metropolitan area, USDOT officials said in a press release.
"The TIGER program has funded innovative projects, sparked new partnerships, created intermodal connections and enabled hard-to-fund projects that are changing the face of communities all across the country," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Final applications for TIGER VII grants are due June 5 and the USDOT expects to receive 800 of them.
On April 16, the USDOT held a TIGER Summit at its Washington, D.C., headquarters to review past applications and projects that were successful, guide recipients on ways to better implement program funds and prepare applicants to navigate the competitive grant process. More than 250 grantees and potential applicants attended the event, while more than 500 others viewed the proceedings via a webcast.
"The department goes to great lengths to select and invest in the best projects. But the best projects don't automatically jump off the page in a grant application," wrote Foxx in a "Fast Lane" blog posted on April 16. "The purpose [of the summit] is to make sure that all applicants, especially those who may not have experience with federal programs, have the information and technical expertise they need."
Since 2009, the TIGER program has provided $4.1 billion for 342 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through the program's first six rounds, the department received 6,100 applications requesting more than $124 billion for transportation projects nationwide, USDOT officials said.
One successful applicant was Port Corpus Christi, which obtained a $10 million TIGER IV grant in 2012 that enabled the Texas port to complete the first phase of the Nueces River Rail Yard.
The $17.8 million first phase — which began in 2013 and opened on April 10 — includes a 9,920-foot siding for 160-car unit trains and four ladder-track interchange yard totaling 15,300 feet that can accommodate 253 rail cars. The phase of work also was funded by contributions from the port, BNSF Railway Co., Kansas City Southern, Union Pacific Railroad and Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
Slated for completion in first-quarter 2017, the second phase is designed to increase unit-train capacity to eight 8,000-foot sidings and provide storage space for 1,247 cars.
"The Nueces River Rail Yard is an excellent example of where public entities and private entities can align interest, jointly invest and develop infrastructure that serves both the public and private interests," said French Thompson, BNSF's director of public-private partnerships.