On February 26, President Obama unveiled a $302 billion, four year infrastructure improvement plan designed to fund necessary modernization and repair projects in the country, as well as provide a much needed increase in employment. Of course, the source of the funding is a major concern and many are skeptical about the ability of Congress to provide it. With the current legislation expiring in October of this year, it is absolutely critical that some reasonable solution be reached.

In the same speech, the president announced a competition for the sixth round of funding from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. Since it was first funded in 2009, the TIGER grant program has awarded $3.5 billion for 270 projects in all 50 states. This round of funding totals $600 million and could go a long way toward funding necessary improvements.

In announcing the results of the fifth round last fall, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx stated, “These transformational TIGER projects are the best argument for investment in our transportation infrastructure. Together, they support President Obama’s call to ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.” That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Everyone in our industry is well aware of the infrastructure needs in this country, Bridges have collapsed, many highways are in dire need of repair or replacement; and almost half a billion dollars should at least be a start in correcting the many deficiencies.

But wait. Where did this TIGER money go? Some of it went for bridge repair, intermodal terminals, and ports that are important to the commerce of the country. But as often happens with government transportation funds, much of it went for projects that contribute absolutely nothing to an enhanced national highway or rail network.  For example, according to the DOT, “TIGER funds will transform and repair the dilapidated and overly wide main road through Olean, NY into a calm, traditional boulevard, with a 7 – foot buffered bike lane in each direction, a tree – lined median, and raised mid – block crosswalks.” ($6.5 million)

Or, “TIGER funds will upgrade 17.6 miles of loose gravel road to a paved surface that will provide a critical arterial route in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” It will also have a bike lane, as well. ($8.8 million)

And the list goes on I am sure every one of them is important to those will be directly affected, but where should our priorities be? With $600 million in its pocket, hopefully Congress will allocate these funds to projects that will enhance our ability to move people and goods around the country, particularly in view of our well known infrastructure problems.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch