Under President Trump, the USDOT has effectively turned the formerly innovative BUILD program—created to advance complex, hard-to-fund, multimodal projects—into little more than a rural roads program, dramatically undercutting both its intent and utility.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the latest round of funding for the BUILD program (formerly known as TIGER). This federal, multimodal transportation funding program has been perennially popular since 2009 when the program was conceived. Now that the program is entering its 11th year, Transportation for America has a new analysis of the program over the past decade that uncovered some worrying findings.
What their research found
By comparing the projects selected for funding over the last 10 years and their levels of funding, Transportation for America shown that under the Trump administration, the focus of BUILD has shifted to:
- More roads, less multimodal. Funding for transit projects has reached new lows while road projects have received record levels of funding. The small amount of funding for multimodal projects is inconsistent with the law.
- More new capacity, less repair. The Trump administration has focused more heavily on capacity expansion (i.e. new roads and road widenings) versus repair and bridge replacement. The Trump administration has prioritized doing the exact opposite of “repairing our crumbling roads and bridges” with the BUILD program.
- More funding for state DOTs, less for anyone else. An average of 37.5 percent of funding has gone to state DOTs under the Trump administration compared to 28 percent under the Obama administration. This undermines one of the greatest strengths of the BUILD program: the ability for local governments (or any public entity) to receive direct federal funding.
- More rural, less urban. While 81 percent of Americans live in urban areas, average funding for projects in urban areas has dropped from 75 percent to 33 percent. Disproportionately awarding grants to projects in rural areas is inconsistent with both the intent and letter of the law.
Based on these findings and the past decade of experience, Transportation for America recommends a number of changes Congress could make to improve the BUILD program and make sure it is being executed as intended. And with long-term federal transportation policy expiring next year, Transportation for America draws lessons from the BUILD program to show how we could improve our federal transportation paradigm as a whole.