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How to win a TIGER 3 grant

Does your local transportation agency have a strong project that is multi-modal, non-traditional, and hard to fund through traditional channels? If so, federal TIGER 3 funds might be the right source for it.

Secretary LaHood has announced $527 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funds. This is the third round of these merit-based grants, hence the short-hand, TIGER 3. Today the USDOT held a webinar, “Lessons on How to Compete for a USDOT TIGER Grant,” which featured several of the administration’s top transportation policy officials, including Roy Kientz, Polly Trottenberg, and Beth Osborne.


Bicycle and pedestrian projects have done well in the first two rounds of TIGER grants. Sixty-eight of the 125 successful TIGER grants included bicycle and/or pedestrian components in their project descriptions. Several funded projects were stand-alone bicycle and pedestrian projects, like the Philadelphia Area Bicycle Network and the Indianapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Network funded in the first round. Several Complete Streets projects were also funded. See here, here, and here for past TIGER projects that include bicycle and pedestrian components.

Highlights today’s panel are below. Most of the advice is fairly general. However, I did have a chance to ask the panel for advice on how to get stand-alone bike/ped projects funded and how to get bicycle and pedestrian components included in larger projects, and for advice on measuring the impact of the project.

TIGER panel

TIGER panel

How can you make a project more attractive by including a bicycle/pedestrian component?

Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, answered:

Bike/ped projects have competed very, very well in TIGER, both standalone and as an integrated part of roadway, bridge and transit projects. One of the things TIGER enables us to do is fund multi-modal projects that achieve a bunch of different things at the same time. So being part of those types of projects is the surest key to success.

How can you best measure the benefits of bicycle and pedestrian projects?

USDOT Chief Economist Jack Wells responded:

The biggest weakness in benefit/cost analyses we’ve seen in bicycle and pedestrian projects has been is that people have not attempted to estimate how many users you would actually have. How many people would actually use the project? Usually the benefit is pretty much proportional to how many people use it. So you need to be able to identify how many people in your community would likely use this project. How often? Would they use a short portion of the project or a long portion of the project?

To calculate the answer he recommends Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 552, Guidelines for Analysis of Investments in Bicycle Facilities.

You can watch a daylong workshop on benefit/cost analysis.

What makes a good bicycling and walking project?

Another panelist added:

Most of the projects that we’ve funded have shown very strong connections to the metropolitan area’s commuting patterns and other things that show that these types of facilities aren’t so much recreational facilities as much as they are facilities that are tied in with the general transportation network. Some of the work that’s been done recently to show the value for economic recovery related to bicycle and pedestrian facilities has also been helpful.

Other recommendations from the panel:

Propose creative, multi-modal projects. “TIGER helps people figure out how to do things that are difficult to do through existing categorical programs or formula dollars” said Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz, for example, multi-modal projects that cross several jurisdictions and are somehow new and creative.

Propose strong, high-priority projects. One of the panelists described the day the proposals are first reviewed as “Christmas morning” because there are so many compelling ideas proposed. Then comes the hard work of whittling the proposals down to the best ones to be funded. The trick is to submit one the projects that gets the reviewers excited. If you can fund 25 projects in your State Transportation Improvement Plan, don’t just submit the 26th project for a TIGER grant. Other agencies will be submitting their best project. “Make our job difficult by submitting good proposals,” Kientz said.

Get the “ask” right. Based on past rounds, the sweet spot for grant amounts is in the $10M, $25M, $30M range. The minimum request amount for urban areas is $10 million. In the last round, some applicants submitted requests for $9 million. Read the entire notice of funding availability carefully to avoid these kinds of mistakes.

Make sure you and your project are eligible. Bicycle and pedestrian advocates should work with a local, regional, or state agency to find a compelling project to submit. (Hint: don’t totally start from scratch. There are deadlines you have to be realistically able to meet, so the reviewers consider “project readiness.” Find one that is already somewhere in the planning stages. “You want to think of this as the last segment of funding, not the first,” one panelist said.) Any state or local agency can submit a TIGER application, including U.S. territories, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and multi-State or multi-jurisdictional groups applying through a single lead applicant. See this TIGER 3 FAQ for more on eligibility.

Meet – and exceed — the criteria. Eligibility does not equal competitiveness. The primary criteria used to evaluate applications are State of Good Repair, Economic Competitiveness, Livability, Environmental Sustainability, Safety, Job Creation & Economic Stimulus. Proposing an innovative project and undertaking collaborative partnerships will also help an application. The panelists urged: don’t focus on the minimum requirements, be among the best.

Local match gives a leg up, shows local support. So far in TIGER there has been an average of $2 in local funds for each $1 in federal TIGER funds spent. The match is the best demonstration of local support. If you are applying as a city or MPO, you also want letters of support to show buy-in from your neighboring municipality to show that it is a project of regional significance.  Letters of support alone are not enough to earn the grant – a robust local match speaks the loudest – but you want to demonstrate “local consensus,” said Kienitz.

Make your “ask” clear. “Get in the mind of the reviewers,” suggested Beth Osborne, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, by submitting a well-organized, not excessively long application. The description should come early and it should be clear what part of the project the federal TIGER funds would pay for. “You should be able to hand the application to your neighbor who doesn’t work in transportation policy, and they should be able to know what you’re asking for.” Pictures and maps go a long way. “We’re transportation people,” Osborne said, “We love maps.” Clarity is the key. Use the format provided by the US DOT. “Be creative in your projects, not your application,” she added.

Pitfalls. Things to avoid:

  • Ineligible applicant or project
  • Project not focused on TIGER priorities
  • Project not focused on surface transportation
  • Projects requests operating funds or Right of Way instead of capital costs
  • Insufficient matching funds

More than half of the successful TIGER projects have included some mention of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, but there’s no reason why that proportion shouldn’t be even higher for an innovative, merit-based multi-modal grant program.

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