Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the 91 projects received funding under a competitive grant program, totaling $1.5 billion, the highest level in years. But state and local communities submitted 851 applications to Washington, requesting nearly $11 billion, demonstrating the gulf between the supply of funds from Washington and demand across the country.
The Trump administration sought to kill the Obama-era program in its budget proposal earlier this year, an idea rejected by Congress, where it has strong bipartisan support. The House and Senate dramatically increased the program’s budget instead.
Chao’s department tweaked the award criteria, including emphasizing projects serving rural areas and those involving partnerships with private industry, a move in line with the administration’s philosophical approach. The Transportation Department also changed the discretionary grant program’s name and acronym, from Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) to Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD).
President Trump’s infrastructure proposal, once touted as a top priority, fell flat on Capitol Hill, with no agreement on how to fund the numerous major improvements that many in both parties believe are critical. But with the House soon to be in Democratic control, Chao said Tuesday that the administration remains eager to tackle infrastructure challenges.
Over the past month, Chao said, it has frequently been observed that “infrastructure is a subject that is especially ripe for bipartisan legislation in the coming year. And that’s good news for our country.”
Chao said the BUILD grant program historically directed about 40 percent of funds to rural projects, but that rose to 69 percent this round.
Rep. David Price (D-North Carolina) joined Chao and other officials in the Transportation Department’s sunlit atrium Tuesday. Price is ranking member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations subcommittee.
In an interview, Price said the 91 projects were an important start, but are a far cry from the comprehensive effort that should be undertaken.
“There are a lot more where these came from, and it is indicative of the backlog of need,” Price said. “These are particularly innovative projects, hopefully, but the need goes to almost every facet of transportation.”
The $1.5 billion in grants can be seen as a “down payment, Price added, “but nothing like the national program we should have.”