City trying to grab a TIGER by the tail

October 9, 2011
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With the grant deadline for transportation projects set for Oct. 31, it would certainly be a sumptuous treat if the city’s application was approved. Almost as big a treat, or possibly as big a trick to pull off — depending on one’s perspective — would be for the city to successfully raise the necessary match in this economy.

“This is a huge one,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. “If we get this funded, it would be awesome.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation is making nearly $527 million available nationwide to local communities in its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, known as TIGER for short. The minimum grant usually awarded by DOT hovers around $10 million. The funds are given out on a highly competitive basis as capital investments for surface transportation projects. Only about 50 grants will be awarded from the 1,200 applications that are expected to be submitted.

The city of Grand Rapids will apply for $28.6 million to help develop its new Grand Connections Project.

“They really want unique projects that are very hard to fund,” said Suzanne Schulz, city planning director, of the DOT.

Grand Connections is a unique project in the sense that it is a multi-modal development that hopes to improve access by underserved populations to jobs and educational opportunities and to enhance mobility for everyone in the metro area through motorized and non-motorized means, including regional trails. The proposed multi-modal plan would be connected to the downtown core and then be linked to the major employment centers and to enhanced transit routes.

“For us, it’s how we get from here to there. We have the pieces, but we don’t have the whole,” said Schulz.

“We do have a component in here that deals with secondary levees,” she added, as an example of how broadly based Grand Connections is. The plan calls for a levee to be laid out along the Grand River base of U.S. 131.

“We want to keep the river as accessible as possible,” said Rick DeVries, an engineer with the city.

Schulz said Grand Connections would cost about $45.3 million to develop, and the TIGER grant requires a local match of 20 percent, which means the city will have to come up with around $16.7 million to be considered for the award.

“If we don’t have that, we can’t apply for the grant. The deadline is Oct. 31,” said Schulz.

The match is expected to come from the city’s street, traffic safety and capital improvement funds, the Downtown Development Authority, the Kent County Drain Commission, and private donations, most likely local foundations.

“The projects have to be shovel-ready,” said Schulz.

City commissioners recently gave Schulz a green light to submit an application for a TIGER grant.

“I think it’s nice to see something on a grander scale,” said Commissioner David Schaffer.

“But let’s be clear,” cautioned City Manager Greg Sundstrom. “This is something the city commission will have to make some serious choices on” if the city gets the DOT grant.

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