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Lessons learned, Metro ponders TIGER II

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

If Metro wants federal funds for
active transportation projects, they’ve
got to adjust their approach.
(Photo © J. Maus)

With the US Department of Transportation’s announcement of TIGER II, a $600 million extension of the stimulus funded TIGER grant program, local active transportation advocates are considering another round of applications.

Our regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, Metro, submitted four active transportation projects totaling $97 million in the first go-round of TIGER grants.

None of those projects received funding*, and since the grant announcement in February, Metro staff has been trying to learn why.

Lake McTighe, the project manager for Metro’s Active Transportation Partnership, has interviewed those who did win major funding for active transportation projects in Indianapolis and Philadelphia.

Indianapolis won $20.5 million to build 4.5 miles of their Cultural Trail. Philadelphia won $23 to complete several trail segments along the Schuylkill River Trail and East Coast Greenway.

Riders on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

McTighe says those projects had several things going for them that the Portland area projects didn’t. Key among them was support in the form of matching funds. Both projects already had considerable investment from private foundations. This will be an even more crucial component for TIGER II because the USDOT is requiring a 20% funding match to even be considered.

Money on the table was key to those projects’ success, McTighe says, because, “They could demonstrate they were already working on a project and it was moving along.”

Another lesson learned is the need for project champions. Champions are influential organizations or decision makers in powerful positions – like Congress – who put their full support behind a project. None of the Portland projects had clearly identifiable organizations or politicians behind them. McTighe says the Active Transportation Council – which includes electeds, executives and other power-players from around the region – could fill that role.

And then there was the video. Advocates for the Cultural Trail in Indianapolis put together an inspiring video of their project (watch it below) that provided a compelling overview for why it deserved funding. It became the envy of trail advocates and transportation wonks across the nation.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail from Gail Payne on Vimeo.

Other important lessons McTighe says they plan to keep in mind include, only applying for projects that do not have right-of-way acquisition issues (that means Sullivan’s Gulch and North Willamette Greenway Trails are unlikely to be proposed), and keeping in mind that the feds seem less interested in how a project will impact mode share and more interested in how a new trail or network of bikeways might connect disadvantaged communities to areas of employment.

At this point, McTighe says they haven’t made a decision as to whether they’ll apply for TIGER II. “We’re exploring it and we plan to meet with the City of Portland next week to discuss it.”

If Metro does apply, they’ll stand a much better chance if they pick a specific, iconic project, package it in a way that strikes the right chords at the US DOT, line up a Congressional supporter (Senator Merkley I bet) and then throw their full support behind it… And I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a video to go with it.

*There was one major project in Portland that did get TIGER funding, and it includes a two-way cycle track.

– More on TIGER II from Streetsblog DC and read all the details in the Federal Register.