The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced the latest winners of its popular TIGER grant program, which will provide $474 million for 52 transportation projects nationwide.

The program, now offering its fifth round of funding, has drawn praise for choosing winners on a competitive basis. Most DOT funding is allocated on a formula basis to ensure a degree of equity between the states.

TIGER advocates say the program offers much more targeted and efficient use of federal dollars by picking projects mostly likely to have the greatest impacts in their community.

The biggest winners in the latest round of funding include:

  • Kansas City -- $20 million for a streetcar project.
  • Atlanta --  $18 million for the Atlanta Beltline Corridor, a system of trails, transit and parks circling downtown.
  • Rochester, N.Y. -- $17.7 million to redevelop an underutilized highway through downtown into a boulevard.
  • Fresno -- $15.9 million for a "complete streets" project through 11 city blocks downtown.
  • Boston -- $15.5 million to reconstruct seven city streets as shared or "complete streets" to include room for pedestrians, bicycles and transit.

"These transformational TIGER projects are the best argument for investment in our transportation infrastructure," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.  “Together, they support President Obama’s call to ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth."

Unsurprisingly, many of the winners -- including all five of the biggest ones -- embrace things like pedestrian and transit elements.

Transportation officials say that's no coincidence, since TIGER focuses on giving awards to projects that are multi-modal or multi-jurisdictional, which can make them difficult to fund through more traditional, siloed mechanisms. The Department of Transportation received 585 applications seeking more than $9 billion of funding in the latest round of TIGER.

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In Rochester, for example, the city won TIGER funds that will help pay for a project that's been discussed for more than 25 years, says Erik Frisch, a transportation specialist with the city.

A 1960s-era expressway cuts downtown off from adjacent, densely populated areas. And it doesn't serve its intended purpose, since traffic volume is relatively small compared to its vast size. Meanwhile, the roadway is reaching the end of its useful life.

In short, Frisch, says, it's "unloved and unnecessary." Rather than repair it, the city plans to replace it with a roadway that's smaller, freeing up nine acres of adjacent land for development. The project is being lead by the city of Rochester, but the road is run and maintained by the state transportation department.

In Montana, funding will be used to connect the cities of Missoula and Lolo via a seven-mile bicycle trail parallel of U.S. Route 93 in an effort to link trail networks in the area.

Florida International University, the only school to win funding, is pursuing a project called UniversityCity that seeks to connect the campus to nearby communities via pedestrian improvements and transit.

In the past, there's been some criticism of the program and the way grantees are selected. A Government Accountability Office report has suggested DOT needs to take better steps to document its rationale for selecting some projects.

Some Republicans argue that the discretionary nature of the grants allows the Obama administration to pick projects for political purposes -- at a time when Congress has given up the ability to do its own earmarks.

Thursday's announcement brings the total number of TIGER awards to 238 capital projects (a separate category in the second round of TIGER also included 33 planning grants).

Thursday's announcement brings the total amount of TIGER funds awarded to $3.6 billion.

TIGER Grants