The Main Street corridor from Olive Street in Bloomington to College Avenue in Normal is the subject of only two TIGER Grant applications being submitted by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). It's the only project involving road construction.
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner calls the multi-modal aspects of the application "exciting." Town of Normal Manger Mark Peterson said the economic benefits are a "game changer."
Despite the competitive nature of TIGER, Peterson said the odds of the state's transportation department landing the grant were "long, but decent" because IDOT's limited applications to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said during Sound Ideas the odds "have to be pretty good."
Both the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington dropped their own applications for TIGER funding (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). Normal was hoping to secure funding for a pedestrian underpass beneath railroad tracks in Uptown. Bloomington's application would have provided funding for its Hamilton Road extension project. When asked if dropping the Hamilton Road application was a difficult decision, Renner said "absolutely not."
"When the (Bloomington) City Manager came to me and said 'IDOT is willing to feature this corridor, but we'd have to drop our grant application,' absolutely," said Renner. "Our probability of getting a TIGER grant was very slight, it wouldn't even be one-percent." He said with IDOT making the Main Street corridor a featured ask, the odds could go into the double digits.
"It's a good project. We're talking $20 million of federal money," said Peterson. "I certainly think this project has a much greater likelihood of being funding than either of the two local projects that these communities were discussing. I think the move by the Normal Council and the Bloomington Council to set aside their projects were smart moves."
If the project moves forward it would be based on the 2012 Main Street Transportation Improvement Feasibility Study. The study provides a multi-modal treatment of the corridor, taking into account pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and motor vehicles. Peterson said the TIGER Grant application is based on the study.
"I think IDOT has become much more friendly to these multi-modal forms of transportation than they were in the past," said Peterson. "I think part of that is under the leadership of the new secretary who has been there just a couple of years, Randy Blankenhorn. I think that sort of attitude has permeated the entire agency."
Renner said the application takes a complete streets approach, with the plan including "bike lanes, new sidewalks, as well as our major arterial being redesigned and repaved. I think it's very exciting."
So called complete streets are designed to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
"It is transformational, just from a transportation perspective." said Peterson. "It's an economic development injection for that whole main street corridor. I think it will bring renewed interest into that corridor from investors who are interested investing in housing and retail. It's a game changer."
The Town plans to resubmit its TIGER grant application for an railway pedestrian underpass in the 2017 round. The City is applying for a FASTLANE grant for its Hamilton Rd. project. FASTLANE grants are part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act passed and signed into law late last year.
TIGER grant applications are due by April 29. Peterson said "there's no other funding available. It's this or nothing."