Investment in Nation's Infrastructure is Economic Lifeline

President Obama used the backdrop of the historic Union Depot Station in Saint Paul, Minn. to announce another round of federal TIGER grants – the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – competitive grant program that has provided 270 communities with an opportunity to make strategic multimodal transportation investments since its inception five years ago. The $600 million in TIGER grants and the president’s proposal for a four year transportation authorization program to replace the current MAP-21 which expires this fall. 

As a new intermodal hub for Saint Paul, the station will connect the Central Corridor Light Rail, Amtrak passenger service, local transit and intercity bus services and a bicycle center. The new light rail line and the station already have generated new housing, retail development, new jobs and increased economic growth. Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, NLC's President, told Congress in December that the federal support for the new rail line has generated more than $1.2 billion worth of investment in new housing and employment opportunities within the 18 station areas along the 11-mile route. Sixteen colleges, university and hospitals within blocks of the new line employ 67,000 people and are working together to strengthen the neighborhoods.

Similar stories in Normal, Ill. and Atlanta, Ga. demonstrate the power of strategic federal transportation investments. City leaders in Normal sought to bring back the city’s downtown but a TIGER grant helped them realize their plan, as Mayor Chris Koos told a Capitol Hill audience this week at an event sponsored by Transportation for America. With a new quarter percent sales tax, a four-percent hotel tax, and a TIF district, the city was able to invest in creating a welcoming place for community members to gather, eat and shop. Private investment followed with new shops and restaurants and plans for additional mixed-use office buildings and condos are being planned.

In Atlanta, Ga., the Atlanta BeltLine is developing a network of public parks, housing, retail and multi-use trails linked to transit along a 22-mile rail corridor. Funded by a Tax Allocation District (TAD), the project covers more than 6,500 acres of the city. Housing, jobs and new businesses continue to be established near the corridor including $400 million in new private real estate development has been invested within a block of the Historic Fourth Ward Park borders, and $775 million in new development has been invested within a half mile of the Eastside Trail. The $25 million federal investment, including an $18 million TIGER grant, continues to reap economic benefits for Atlanta, the region and the nation.

Against the backdrop of federal investment in transportation and its capacity to generate economic benefits, the president offered a new four-year proposal to fund federal transportation investments. Chairman Bill Shuster convened a roundtable to discuss the future of the federal transportation program and how to pay for it. With funding almost depleted, the president is proposing a $302 billion, four year transportation authorization. The current program expires on September 30 and funding from the federal gas tax is projected to run out before then. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp also unveiled a tax reform proposal that includes $126.5 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

In a statement, Chairman Shuster said, “I am committed to moving forward with fiscally responsible transportation solutions to promote competitiveness and economic growth, reform programs and focus our resources where they are needed most. Chairman Camp and President Obama have presented proposals that I hope will bring increased focus to the challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund and the importance of the federal role in our national transportation system.”

The national transportation network is a lifeline for our nation’s economy. The federal partnership to maintain that investment means jobs and economic growth. Finding a comprehensive funding solution will allow local leaders to make the long-term investments and planning decisions their communities need.