The Town of Normal will receive a $13 million federal grant toward construction of its long-planned Uptown underpass, officials announced Wednesday.
The money comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program. It was announced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood and Rodney Davis.
The project will design and construct a pedestrian, bicyclist, and passenger underpass. Town leaders have long sought a solution to safely move people across the tracks through the heart of Uptown, but they argued paying for an underpass without federal help would be too expensive. The underpass has been a recurring priority during the community’s One Voice lobbying trips to Washington, D.C.
The $13 million total is $3 million less than the town requested, said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. As such, the town is “going to have to readjust that ($16 million) number” and the scope of the project could change. There are also other revenue sources available, such as state funding for railroad work, to fill in the gaps, Koos said. The goal is to use as little in town funds as possible, he said.
“We’ve got some work to do before we can really lay out a tight package of what we’re gonna do, how we’re gonna do it, and what the timeline would be,” Koos said.
BUILD grants may be used for up to 80% of the cost of projects in urban areas and up to 100% of the costs of a project located in a rural area, according to the Department of Transportation. Koos said it’s too early to say what the final mix of funding will be for the underpass.
“There are too many moving parts right now,” he said.
Despite Wednesday’s announcement, the town has yet to receive formal notification from the Department of Transportation, including what parameters may be attached to the $13 million, Koos said.
“These are incredibly competitive grants,” Koos said. “We’re flattered that we’ve been chosen among hundreds of projects—very competitive projects.”
Koos said the underpass would be a “strong economic development tool” and a potential game-changer for Uptown 2.0 south of the tracks. That’s where a new library and more affordable housing could be built, Koos said.
“People may think it’s just pass-through,” he said. “But there’s actually going to be active space that we build that’s part of this underpass. It’s really an urban connector between two urban sites, to allow people to move back and forth freely.”
Koos noted the bipartisan push from Durbin, Duckworth, LaHood, and Davis to secure the funds.
“I’m pleased that this federal funding will help Normal build an underpass that will lead to safer and more efficient travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and rail passengers,” Durbin said in a statement.
“I’ve supported this project since I arrived in the Senate because this significant infusion of federal funding in Normal will help move our state’s economy in the right direction, improve our transportation systems and create jobs for hardworking Illinoisans,” Duckworth added. “It’s a continuing effort to improve infrastructure in Normal and across Central Illinois while supporting local jobs.”
This would be at least the second large federal grant in support of Uptown redevelopment. Normal received a $22 million TIGER grant toward the $49.5 million construction of Uptown Station and the new City Hall, which opened in 2012. TIGER grants were the predecessor of BUILD grants.
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