After letter-writing campaign, Senate committee backs down on massive change to TIGER program

National Transportation Urbanism
Light rail in Minneapolis. (MARK DANIELSON / FLICKR)

Light rail in Minneapolis. (MARK DANIELSON / FLICKR)

Since 2009, the United States Department of Transportation’s TIGER program has helped realize some of the country’s most innovative and overdue urban design and transportation initiatives. Launched as part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, TIGER grants have since provided funding for projects like the Brooklyn Greenway, Kansas City streetcar, and new light rail in the Twin Cities.

The Brooklyn Greenway, a TIGER Grant recipient. (COURTESY NYCDOT)

The Brooklyn Greenway, a TIGER Grant recipient. (COURTESY NYCDOT)

By the numbers, seven rounds of TIGER funding have funneled over $4.6 billion into 342 individual projects around the country. (Check out Transportation for America’s map to see if there is a TIGER-backed project near you. Spoiler: There probably is.) As StreetsBlog explains, the structuring of these grants streamlined funding procedures, allowing these types of urban projects to flourish: “By working directly with cities and regional agencies, TIGER bypassed state DOTs more interested in big highway projects than enhancing transit, biking, and walking options.”

But this month, the Republican-led Senate Commerce Committee moved to drastically change the program, effectively stripping bike lanes and multimodal projects from future funding rounds in favor of freight rail projects. This prompted a swift and massive letter-writing campaign aimed at urging senators to change course. The plan worked: This week, committee chair John Thune (R-SD) removed that language from the bill.

Now we have to wait to see what happens next, as Streetsblog noted, “[the] bill appears to be on hold for at least another five months after the House passed another short-term extension of the current law.”

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