With typical fanfare, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) grants to 51 cities. The complete list of grants includes new “modern streetcar” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) lines in Dallas and Tucson, plus an extension of the existing streetcar system in New Orleans.
“In an overwhelming show of demand for the program,” said LaHood, US DOT “was flooded with more than 1,400 applications.” What a surprise to find that there is an overwhelming demand for free money.
Among the lucky winners was Tucson, which received $63 million toward the $150 million cost of a 3.9-mile streetcar line between the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the University of Arizona. So now students can take the streetcar to the hospital when they are too drunk to walk. (Sorry, that’s an insult: most students are too smart to ride streetcars.)
Dallas is getting $23 million of the expected $58 million cost of a downtown-area streetcar line. The line will connect with the city’s light-rail line so anyone who is eager to change from a 20-mph light rail to a 7-mph streetcar will have the opportunity to do so.
Detroit is getting $25 million toward the $143 million cost of a 3.9-mile rail line. The TIGER grant calls it a light-rail line, but it sounds more like another streetcar as it is entirely on Woodward Avenue — home of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise auto show. In your face, auto lovers! I guess the Dream Cruise is going to have to find another street to cruise upon.
New Orleans is getting 100 percent of the anticipated $45 million cost of extending its streetcar line to the city’s train station. This station “is a major southern hub for Amtrak, with three trains serving the station.” Wow! Three whole trains. (Note that it is not three trains a day, since one of those trains only goes three times a week.) That is really going to generate a lot of streetcar ridership.
Other rail-transit TIGER grants include $25 million towards a light rail on congested Woodward Avenue in Detroit (in your face, auto lovers!), $23.2 million towards reconstruction of part of Portland’s streetcar line at a higher elevation (mainly to make it possible to eventually run light rail on that line), and $55 million towards a commuter-rail extension in Massachusetts.
In all, rail transit accounted for only about 16 percent of TIGER grants, with another 18 percent going for other transit projects, including bus-rapid transit in Denver and Las Vegas but otherwise mainly various sorts of transit centers (which the Antiplanner considers a complete waste). In addition, $83 million, or about 5.5 percent of the total, went to the project aiming to convert the old post office near Madison Square Gardens into a train station as a belated apology for allowing the destruction of Penn Station.
About a quarter of the funds went to road projects (some of which is supposed to also benefit transit, such as a bridge in Tulsa that will be used by both autos and commuter trains). A slightly larger share, more than 26 percent, went to various freight rail projects. I don’t know why CSX and the other freight railroads are so poor they have to ask for government handouts. Various other freight projects, mainly port facilities, got another 7 percent. The remaining funds, about 3 percent, went to some pedestrian and bike path projects.
Supposedly, some 80 cities are interested in building streetcars, so quite of few of them must be disappointed by these grants. But perhaps many will come to their senses and realize that they dodged a bullet by not having to subject their streets to this nineteenth-century transport mode and their taxpayers to all the subsidies that will be required to “revitalize” the neighborhoods ripped up for streetcar tracks.