The Department’s broad recovery goals reflect those of the Recovery Act: creating and preserving jobs and promoting economic recovery, and investing in infrastructure that has long-term economic benefits. A significant amount of the Department’s Recovery Act funding is provided to State and local transportation authorities through existing program structures, which helps ensure that these funds will be used for “shovel ready” projects to create and preserve jobs as quickly as possible.
The Department of Transportation received a total of $48.1 billion, of which $38.6 was distributed through existing funding programs. The Act also subjects many of them to “use or lose” provisions that ensure recipients spend funds, put people to work and contribute to our economic recovery quickly. Much of this funding is distributed directly to the States, who will determine how it is spent on eligible projects.
The Recovery Act also created new programs that will create long-term economic benefits by investing in a transportation network that can keep us competitive in the 21st century. The Recovery Act includes $8 billion to jumpstart high-speed and intercity rail programs in the United States. This investment provides a down payment for our efforts to transform travel in the United States and helps ensure that we reap benefits from our transportation systems for years to come. President Obama has proposed to budget $1 billion in each of the next five years, in addition to the Recovery Act’s $8 billion investment, to ensure that the Federal commitment to high-speed rail continues.
The Recovery Act also created a new $1.5 billion discretionary grant program administered by the Secretary’s office that will invest in projects that provide long-term economic benefits. This program presents the Department with a unique opportunity both to promote short-term economic recovery and also to focus investment on projects with long-term benefits.
Unlike any other U.S. DOT program, the Secretary’s discretionary grant program is multi-modal, allowing the Department to consider the benefits of investments in highway, transit, rail, ports or inter-modal projects. The program also aims to ensure that investments are made in both urban and rural communities and to achieve an equitable geographic distribution of funding.
A new transit grant program funded by the Recovery Act will allow projects to compete for grant funds based on how much their project is expected to reduce energy consumption or greenhouse gases, or both. According to Secretary LaHood, “this grant program establishes the transit industry as a leader in reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, addressing global climate change and creating green jobs.”
The Department is also focused on providing unprecedented transparency and accountability for all of its Recovery Act funding. This includes ensuring that discretionary grants are awarded using merit-based criteria, and that registered lobbyists do not unduly influence the Department’s decision-making.
This focus on transparency and accountability is reflected in heightened management attention to grant, contract, and loan procedures and aggressive risk mitigation efforts. Even before the Recovery Act was passed, the Department created a senior leadership team to ensure that any Recovery Act funds appropriated to the Department would be spent quickly, wisely and transparently. This group is known as the TIGER Team (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery).
The Department has already begun to use the $48.1 billion appropriated under the Recovery Act for a variety of transportation projects around the country. These projects range from renovating a taxiway in Pennsylvania, to completing a light rail project in Arizona. In each case, however, the outcome is clear: the Department’s goals of short-term job creation and preservation, and investment in long-term economic efficiency are being achieved.