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Cincinnati officials looking to win big in second round of TIGER grants

Cincinnati officials have submitted a $35 million application for funds from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II program, but they're not alone in their aspirations.  Approximately 1,000 applications were submitted for consideration totaling more than $19 billion in requests - a number far exceeding the $600 million available through the program.

"The wave of applications for both TIGER II and TIGER I dollars shows the back-log of needed infrastructure improvements and the desire for more flexible funds," U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement.  "This also shows the opportunities still before us to create jobs, to reduce congestion, make wise environmental choices and help generate lasting economic growth."

In February 2010 Cincinnati officials learned that the streetcar project had been passed over in the first round of TIGER funding which distributed $1.5 billion to 51 projects nationwide.  At that time officials attributed the loss to the highly competitive nature of the program, but were encouraged by the positive feedback they received from the DOT.

Outside of one-time grant allocations like TIGER the program, most transportation funds are allocated on a user fee system.  And with the competition for transportation funding is so great that some have questioned the foundation for which the allocation of those limited funds is based.

"The fundamental problem with the user fee is that it fails to reflect the fact that everyone - user or not - benefits from the transportation system," explained Yonah Freemark, journalist at Next American City and The Transport Politic.  "While there are some good reasons to maintain the user fee, increases in spending could come from the expansion of the general fund commitment to transportation."

Cincinnati's current $35 million request would close the remaining $12 million gap and potentially reduce the amount of local bonds needed for the $128 million streetcar project.  Should the project receive the full $35 million, the modern streetcar project could potentially also see an expanded scope from its current Downtown/Over-the-Rhine loop and connection to Uptown.

"The streetcar project speaks directly to a number of the priorities that have been identified recently by the U.S. DOT," said Chris Eilerman with the City's Department of Transportation & Engineering.  "The streetcar specifically speaks to the livability principles of providing more transportation choices and improving the economic competitiveness of neighborhoods, sustainability, walkability, and creating vibrant, urban neighborhoods.  This is why we believe that this is a transformative project that will compliment the growth that Cincinnati is experiencing now."

Cincinnati's official request was submitted by the Ohio DOT as one of their priority projects.  The State of Ohio previously awarded the Cincinnati Streetcar project $15 million through its Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC).

According to the U.S. DOT, grants awarded through TIGER II will be awarded on a competitive basis to projects using a half-dozen criteria that include environmental, transportation, economic, and livability factors.  Those projects that are able to create and preserve jobs quickly will also be given priority.  Officials expect to hear back about projects winning TIGER II funds later this fall.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
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