ITS and Funding: Competing for Dollars
February 13, 2017

Pete Goldin

Assuming the program is implemented, will ITS see any of the $1 trillion proposed by US Democrats for infrastructure improvements via the Blueprint to Rebuild America's Infrastructure and Create 15 Million Jobs?

In a 2014 interview I conducted with Kirk Steudle, Director of Michigan DOT, he said: “Funding is a fundamental issue. We have to make trade-offs. Do I make this investment in ITS, or do I make sure three more bridges stand up? That is the biggest obstacle I see to ITS.”

As mentioned in my last blog, the proposed program is reminiscent of the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in February 2009 to fund projects to stimulate the US economy. In terms of transportation, the US DOT received $48.1 billion to promote short-term economic recovery, and an additional $1.5 billion in discretionary grants to invest in projects that provide long-term economic benefits. ARRA funding helped many states fund transportation projects that would not have been possible otherwise. Some ITS projects were funded from ARRA, however most of the money went to construction – road repair and expansion. The new program could potentially deliver the same results.

ITS has always had a challenge competing with projects to rebuild highways and bridges. but it shouldn't be a tough decision for agencies that truly want to get mileage out of their funds. According to ITIF (The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation), because ITS can maximize the capacity of existing highway infrastructure, expanding funding for ITS is the optimal use of highway transportation funding.

As part of ARRA, the TIGER grants were considered the most successful way to fund ITS projects – possibly because they were judged on a case-by-case basis in terms of factors such as expected performance – so this could present hope for funding innovative and productive ITS projects in the Democrats' proposed program as well, which will also provide some funding for TIGER grants – $10 billion to be exact, which is actually much larger than the $1.5 billion in TIGER grants previously available from ARRA. The grants allow state and local agencies to propose high performance projects greatly in need of funds, and during ARRA this worked out well for ITS.

The Democrat proposal explains why the TIGER Grant program was included: "The bipartisan TIGER Grant program has been highly successful in helping States and local communities make multi-modal transportation investments that address congestion, improve safety and expand economic opportunities across the country. However, demand for this program far exceeds available funds, making TIGER one of the most oversubscribed federal programs. In the most recent round, USDOT was able to fund only 5% of the total amount requested by States and local communities, leaving many projects unfunded.

"We will significantly increase funding for the highly successful TIGER Grant program. This will provide States and local communities with the means to mobilize transportation projects that the traditional formula grant programs are unable to accommodate. By increasing funding to TIGER, we will enable more highly qualified multi-modal projects to be funded that will improve safety and mobility, fix freight bottlenecks, shorten commutes, expand access to jobs and schools, and generate economic development."

“Opening the way for greater use of innovation and technology, including intelligent transportation systems, is one way that we can make the existing system work better and maximize capacity in the coming years,” said Chairman Bill Shuster of the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. “The future of transportation is coming and the federal government can't afford to stifle innovation. The United States must be a leader in this area, and we have to be ready for the benefits and challenges that new technology will bring.”