In its latest hotly contested competition for federal aid, the Dept. of Transportation has awarded $293 million for 53 streetcar and bus projects around the country. Some of the funds will go for construction.

The grants were in two categories: Six projects, including five streetcar lines, shared $130 million in Urban Circulator funds; and 47 projects divided $163 million in Bus and Bus Livability aid.

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, announcing the winners on July 8, said the grants are part of the Obama administration’s community “livability” initiative, which links transportation planning and funding with housing and economic development.

“This is a big deal,” LaHood told reporters in a conference call. He said that the projects will create jobs, support local businesses and reduce dependence on foreign oil. “It’s a multiple win,” he added.

Peter Rogoff, head of DOT’s Federal Transit Administration, said, “This was a particularly intense competition.”

DOT received 65 applications totaling more than $1 billion for the Urban Circulator money and 281 Bus and Bus Livability applications totaling more than $2 billion.

This latest round of grants continues a trend for DOT, which also received a flood of applications for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act high-speed-rail and ‘TIGER’ grants, as states sought vastly more funds than DOT had available.

Rogoff said selection criteria for the transit grants included whether a project was ready to get under way, with planning completed. He said other factors included ridership projections, economic development opportunities, and whether proposed projects provided service to transit-dependent and low-income people.

The federal grants will be supplemented by local funds, Rogoff said.

The livability grants are not funded by the economic-stimulus act, but instead draw on several other sources, Rogoff said, including 2009 and 2010 appropriations for such established accounts as fixed-guideway new starts and bus-facility aid.

Asked whether DOT will have more transit livability grant competitions, LaHood said that the projects were a priority and added that the department will work with the Office of Management and Budget on funding issues. “We know Congress likes these programs,” he said.

Posted in ENR.com.