Different Name, Similar Program: TIGER Morphs into BUILD

The US Department of Transportation has announced that the long-standing TIGER program, in which USDOT awards up to $25 million apiece to multimodal transportation projects across the country, has been renamed the BUILD program. The renaming of TIGER signals USDOT’s intention to put the Trump administration’s stamp on it.

In the final funding deal for FY2018, Congress provided $1.5 billion for TIGER, which is triple what has been available in recent years. TIGER’s new name comes with a few new programmatic tweaks:

  • BUILD will focus on projects with significant regional or local impact; the idea of focusing on local needs is new to the BUILD equation.
  • BUILD will also emphasize rural areas, with at least 30 percent of the funding set aside for rural projects.
  • Biking and walking projects continue to be eligible, though the emphasis is on larger transportation projects.  Broadband is also newly eligible.
  • The selection criteria continue to include safety, good repair, economic competitiveness, environmental protection, and quality of life.  USDOT also added three new criteria:  innovation, partnership (including with the private sector), and increasing non-federal funding for transportation (such as through gas tax increases or tolling).  This approach is a nod to the President’s infrastructure proposal which emphasized bring in additional revenue from the private sector. Senators Collins (R-ME) and Reed (D-RI), who are the senior Senators on the transportation appropriations subcommittee, have objected to the new revenue criteria; but it is unclear whether USDOT will make any modifications.
  • Applicants can still request for up to 80 percent federal funding for the project, though the guidelines state that similar projects with more non-federal revenue will be more competitive.

In the past, TIGER helped support a number of large-scale biking, walking, and trail projects.  However, there was a clear shift in the 2017 TIGER awards, which were the first ones selected under Secretary Chao.  There was only one standalone trail project approved, but one-third of the projects approved included bicycle and pedestrian improvements as part of a road or bridge project, or were Complete Streets projects.  One project in Frankfort, Kentucky focused on a road reconstruction project that added wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and intersection improvements to improve safe pedestrian access to a local elementary school. 

Assuming BUILD projects are judged similarly to the 2017 TIGER projects, biking, walking and Safe Routes to School advocates should examine the program and consider whether there is a local project that improves transportation access—particularly if there is a subsbtantial economic benefit or safety argument to make. TIGER has always been a very competitive program, but with three times as much money available, it’s likely that somewhere between 100 and 150 projects will be selected for funding.

The deadline for submissions is July 19, 2018.  In May, USDOT will have several webinars to walk applicants through the program.  More information on BUILD is on the USDOT website.

Also of note at the federal level is that the Trump Administration is seeking to use the rescissions process to ask Congress to slice $30 to $60 billion off of the already agreed upon FY2018 funding levels.  In the next few weeks, the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will submit to Congress a list of programs and amounts to cut from those programs.  We don’t yet know whether OMB will include the TIGER/BUILD program, although we know that is one of the programs that the Administration has proposed to cut.  Congress would need to pass these cuts, and there is already a lot of skepticism among members of Congress from both parties about this gambit.  If a program is proposed for a rescission, it could put a hold on spending money for 45 days, further slowing agencies from getting grants awarded and programs implemented for this fiscal year.

Finally, we turn to the states.  As you know, each quarter we take a look at how states are utilizing their Transportation Alternatives Program funds.  Our most recent quarterly report shows that all states but two obligated a total of $120 million in TAP spending, meaning that Safe Routes to School, biking, and walking projects are moving forward.  And just three states (MS, TX, and UT) transferred money away from TAP to other road and bridge projects.