Stop Overspending on Rural Transportation

A blog about business and economics.
June 22 2012 3:15 PM

Almost 25 Percent of TIGER Grants Will Go To Rural Projects

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DOT map

Only 16 percent of Americans live in rural areas, and the quantity is dropping, so naturally the U.S. Department of Transportation proudly announced today that "of the $500 million in TIGER 2012 funds available for grants, more than $120 million will go to critical projects in rural areas."

TIGER is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, and the allocations are above. Not only does this give rural areas a share of money disproportionate to their population, but rural America's contribution to the economy is even lower than its population share. What's more, as you can see on the map, a number of the rural grants are going to low-unemployment plains states such as North Dakota (3 percent), Nebraska (3.9 percent), Vermont (5.6 percent), Oklahoma (4.8 percent), and New Hampshire (5 percent).

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You see this basic dynamic in all kinds of federal grant programs. Typically any kind of rational grant formula would fail to give money to rural areas in a manner that's consistent with rural areas' strength in the U.S. Senate. Therefore you end up with either implicit or explicit special set-asides for rural areas.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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