The U.S. DOT has announced this year’s recipients of its TIGER grants. In the City of Rochester, New York, a $17.7-million grant will go toward the Inner Loop East reconstruction project, which is replacing an underutilized sunken highway with an at-grade boulevard, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Wikimedia Commons/Aip3745
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced the names of the 52 recipients in 37 states that have received a share of $474 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) money in 2013.
September 17, 2013—Economic recovery might finally be on the upswing, but for the fifth year in a row, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) has offered grant money through its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary program to help states fund capital improvements in transportation infrastructure. The 52 recipients located in 37 states—announced earlier this month— will share $474 million this year. While money is available—and was granted—to both urban and rural projects, the projects that received the largest disbursements were programs that focused on increasing, and improving, the circulation of residents and workers in urban settings.
Kansas City, Missouri, received the largest grant, $20 million, for its downtown streetcar project. The City of Atlanta received the second-largest, at $18 million, for a new addition to its established Beltline Corridor Trail network, and the City of Rochester, New York, received just under that, $17.7 million, for its Inner Loop East Reconstruction.
In Kansas City, the grant monies will be used for “project enhancement” and to reduce the local financial burden of building phase one—the starter line—of the city’s new electric streetcar system, said Sean Demory, a spokesman for the City of Kansas City’s Public Works Department, who responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. The entire Kansas City streetcar project is anticipated to cost $102.5 million, according to the U.S. DOT, and the $20-million TIGER grant will provide 19.5 percent of the total funds necessary.
About 80 percent of the streetcar project is being funded locally, according to Demory. “While a portion comes directly from a municipal funding commitment, the majority comes from sales and property taxes levied in a Transportation Development District representing the area directly served by the streetcar,” he says. “The TIGER funds will allow the city to reduce those assessments and their impact on our citizens.”
The proposed streetcar line is a 2 mi long, north-to-south route that will stop at 11 stations, located roughly every other block, and include 3.9 track miles, according to Kansas City’s grant application. It would connect an area known as River Market, near the Missouri River, with the Crown Center/Union Station area, serving the city’s central business and arts districts. The city anticipates that the streetcar system will initially serve almost 70,000 people who either live or work within two blocks of a planned station. The system is slated to open in spring 2015.
The $18 million that the City of Atlanta received will cover more than 41 percent of the total $43.2-million cost of converting 2.5 mi of a disused rail bed in southwest Atlanta into a bicycle and pedestrian transportation corridor, according to materials provided by the city. The rail bed “has recently been rehabilitated …as a nature hiking trail, but the TIGER grant is going to allow us to build it out as part of the Atlanta BeltLine program,” said Ethan Davidson, spokesman for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. The Beltline project seeks to create a network of public parks, multiuse trails, and mass transit along a 22 mi rail corridor encircling downtown Atlanta.
The 2.5 mi section to which the TIGER grant funding will be applied will include a 14 ft wide concrete multiuse trail, 16 access points to adjacent communities, connections to four parks and four schools, and a significant amount of landscaping, Davidson noted.
“Southwest Atlanta has historically experienced a good amount of disinvestment over the years as Atlanta has become increasingly less industrial,” Davidson says. “The Atlanta BeltLine works really across the city, but I think a lot of people look to the impact that the project will have [on] the south side of Atlanta, as well as the west side of Atlanta—areas that have, quite frankly, struggled for some time. The Atlanta BeltLine is key to revitalizing a lot of these areas.”
The new routes will offer improved neighborhood connections to job centers and citywide transit in Atlanta, according to materials provided by the city. “A similar project that we completed last year—the Eastside trail, which is roughly two miles in northeast Atlanta—has generated roughly $775 million dollars in new development, within a half mile,” Davidson says. “So we’re looking to have a similar kind of catalytic effect in the southwest part of town by building out this project.”
With the grant, the southwest project will be able to begin in fall 2014, a remarkable 2-3 years earlier than anticipated, according to material provided by the city.
In Rochester, the $17.7-million TIGER grant money will cover 75 percent of the city’s Inner Loop East reconstruction project’s projected $23.6-million cost and enable the city to finally move into construction. The project, which is replacing an underutilized sunken highway that cuts through the city with an at-grade boulevard, will transform 8 to 12 lanes of expressway and frontage roads into a single two- to three-lane street with parking and a physically separated bicycle lane and wide sidewalks, according to the U.S. DOT’s fact sheet on the project.
The changes will open up approximately 9 acres of new land that could support nearly 1 million sq ft of mixed-use development and public space, according to Erik Frisch, a transportation specialist with the City of Rochester who has overseen the planning, preliminary design, public engagement, and funding aspects of the project. Frisch responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. (The city’s project manager for the work is Paul Way, P.E., M.ASCE.)
“The TIGER funding completes the financing for the construction phase of the project and allows it to proceed as one project rather than being broken into multiple phases,” Frisch said. “Simply put, without this TIGER investment, the project would not be able to move forward in the near future,” Frisch said. “Given this age of austerity that we’re in with respect to transportation funding, it is extremely difficult to finance transformative infrastructure projects such as this, especially for cities our size.”
The project has been desired for 25 years, Frisch said, and its completion will aid the revitalization of the downtown area as it is reconnected with existing, vibrant neighborhoods to the south and east. The city has released a video that documents the type of maintenance work already necessary on the aging highway and how bringing the transportation route to grade-level will improve pedestrian and neighborhood access to downtown.
While the bulk of the TIGER grant money has gone to urban areas, including the three noted above, according to the U.S. DOT, 25 of this year’s funded projects were in rural areas of the country. These projects do not meet a $10-million cost threshold, as do the urban applications, so applicants can apply for smaller amounts that cover 100 percent of a project’s cost.
This year, the U.S. DOT designated $123.4 million in TIGER grants for rural projects, including the smallest grants offered. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation received $1.4 million for its $2-million project to repair a 42 mi section of rail so that trains containing rail cars weighing the industry-standard of 286,000 lbs can travel along its entire length. The second-smallest grant was $1.45 million to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for its $1.71-million effort to install intersection conflict-warning systems at 15 rural intersections.
In the last five years of funding, the TIGER grants have provided $3.5 billion to 270 projects located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. DOT.