The Works

2015 TIGER Grant Standouts for Cities Go to BRT, Bike Trails and More

The seventh round of TIGER grants includes funds for a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, a new train station for Charlotte and a slew of rail, bus, bike, pedestrian, and street improvements. Here are some of the most noteworthy urban projects from this year’s funding round.

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, above, is part of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River Trail. Projects to complete segments of the trail have received a TIGER funding boost. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the seventh batch of TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) awards last week. As in previous years, the competition for these grants was intense: 627 applications for a total of $10.1 billion in funding poured in from all 50 states, a number of U.S. territories and tribal governments. The U.S. DOT awarded $500 million in grants to 39 of those projects in 34 states.

Notable in this year’s round of grants is the high proportion of rural projects that won funding: 43 percent of the awards, the highest percentage ever, went to rural proposals. Here are some project highlights from the urban side of the 2015 TIGER grant cycle.

Charlotte Gateway Station
One of the two largest grants — each $25 million — will go to the City of Charlotte and the North Carolina Department of Transportation to help finish the Charlotte Gateway Station. Charlotte’s Amtrak station is being moved into its downtown to better connect it to both the state’s largest single employment hub and to the city’s transit system. The $51.6 million station is also being designed to handle additional passenger train service yet to be introduced. The work funded by the TIGER grant will better separate passenger and freight train movements though the heart of Charlotte in order to allow more passenger trains to serve the station. (The other $25 million grant will go to eight Midwestern states to pick up almost all the cost of a $28 million information system that will let truck drivers know what the best available options are for parking their rigs near the highways on which they are traveling.)

New Jersey’s Portal Bridge (Photo by Jim Henderson)

Portal Bridge Replacement Acceleration
One large TIGER grant will go to a project of critical importance in the nation’s busiest intercity passenger rail corridor: funding $16 million of a $20 million project budget for advance work necessary in order to hasten the replacement of the 100-year-old Portal Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) in New Jersey. This span over the Hackensack River is a vertical lift bridge that sits only 23 feet above the water and thus must be raised two or three times each day. The bridge’s advanced age makes raising the span a chancy proposition, and the potential for a failure that would snarl NEC rail traffic is high. The replacement span planned for the site — completion date unknown — will be higher than the current span and designed to allow trains to cross it at higher speeds, thus increasing train capacity on the bridge and removing a bottleneck for most maritime traffic on the Hackensack River.

Bus Rapid Transit
Interest in this lower-cost alternative to light- or heavy-rail transit continues to grow, as reflected in the three BRT proposals that received grants this year. The two most ambitious projects are both in the Southeast.

  • Birmingham, Alabama, will receive $20 million toward a $39 million, 15-mile-long BRT corridor designed to connect several low-income inner-city neighborhoods with employment, education and service centers elsewhere in metro Birmingham. Nearly one-fifth of the more than 50,000 residents along the corridor lack access to a vehicle and are thus hampered in their ability to find jobs and access needed services. The grant will pay for real-time information systems, additional compressed natural gas buses and renovations to vehicle storage and maintenance facilities.
  • The Louisville Metropolitan Government is getting $16 million to help pull off a $28.9 million upgrade of 15 miles of Dixie Highway, a congested thoroughfare heading southwest from the city center, into a “complete street” that will form the backbone of the city’s first BRT line. The TIGER grant will fund BRT infrastructure, transit signal priority, intersection improvements, raised medians, driveway consolidations, improved intersections, and pedestrian facilities, and other improvements designed to make the road safer and more welcoming to all users.

Bike/Pedestrian Trails
Three urban projects and one rural project funded in this year’s TIGER round include work to extend, improve or close gaps in bike/pedestrian trails and pathways.

  • There’s $10 million toward the completion of a bike and pedestrian trail along the Grand Canal, which passes through a largely low-income section of Phoenix; the $16 million project is intended to improve safety for the area’s many bike riders and allow improved bike and pedestrian access to the rest of the Phoenix trail and mass transit networks.
  • The City of New York will get $10 million to help pay for a $22 million project to fill the last three-quarter-mile gap in the 23-mile-long Bronx River Greenway, a set of pedestrian and bike paths running the length of the Bronx River in New York City’s northernmost borough. Separate paths for bicycles and pedestrians and two bike/pedestrian bridges will be built with the proceeds.
  • The City of Philadelphia will receive $10.3 million to help connect two completed segments of the Schuylkill River Trail and close two other gaps in the city’s network of multimodal streets designed to accommodate bikes and pedestrians as well as motor vehicles. One of the three projects in this $35 million project will restore an abandoned swing-span railroad bridge across the Schuylkill in Southwest Philadelphia for use as part of the riverside trail; another will replace a dangerous footbridge over a former railroad line with a new at-grade street, and the third will transform a former industrial highway into a pedestrian- and bike-friendly complete street.

(The rural project will construct a bike and pedestrian trail along State Route 124 through the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico. The $3 million project, one-third of which will be funded by this TIGER grant, completes a network of bike and pedestrian trails in the pueblo that was planned using a TIGER grant in 2010.)

Light Rail
Two grants and part of a third will go toward rehabilitation and extension of light-rail lines in three cities.

  • Tacoma gets a TIGER grant of $15 million to put toward a $166 million project that will more than double the length of the existing 1.6-mile-long Tacoma LINK modern streetcar line, which backers say will stimulate further redevelopment in downtown Tacoma.
  • Milwaukee’s TIGER grant will pick up half of the $28.4 million price tag for a .77-mile spur off a planned modern streetcar line. The spur will connect the downtown streetcar route with the city’s lakefront, which is experiencing redevelopment along with downtown.
  • Buffalo will build on a previous TIGER grant that revitalized a stretch of Main Street downtown by extending the makeover to lower Main Street. The $22.5 million project, $18 million of which will be funded by a grant from this latest round, will replace aging trackbed and rails, modify a crossover, improve the pedestrian experience, reconnect city streets and restore two-way traffic to Main Street.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: transportation spending

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