MTD, cities, UI seeking 'long-shot' federal funds
CHAMPAIGN — Local officials are seeking federal funds for a massive $29.7 million infrastructure improvement project on five center city corridors that connect the University of Illinois with downtown Champaign and downtown Urbana.
The application for about $13.5 million in federal funds is a long shot, admitted Bill Volk, the managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, which is the lead applicant for the funds.
Some 568 applications for so-called TIGER — Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — grants have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, totaling about $9 billion. But only $474 million has been appropriated by Congress, Volk noted.
"The odds are better than winning the lottery," Volk said. "We're being realistic, but you don't get anywhere unless you throw it in and try it."
A decision on the request should come within the next five to six months, he said.
Even if it isn't awarded, the MTD could try later this year with a second avenue for the infrastructure work, Volk said, through the "small starts" grant program of the Federal Transit Administration.
The application for federal money is accompanied by letters of support from U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorvile; the mayors of Champaign and Urbana; the chairman of the MTD board; and the executive director of facilities and services at the University of Illinois.
"CUMTD, the cities and university are committed to creating a 'micro-urban' environment in this designated core that encourages a diverse population in terms of income, age, ethnicity and race that also supports a strong, varied job base," said the letter from Davis. "The specific objective of this project is to increase population and activity within this urban core, and stimulating economic development while reducing the need for single-occupant vehicle travel."
If awarded, the money would pay for a complete street redesign along the five street corridors, including reduced-width vehicle lanes, on-street bike lanes, bus lanes, curb ramps, enhanced bus stops, new combined vehicle and pedestrian street lights, new streetscaping and a bus prioritization system that would give bus drivers some control over traffic signals.
The infrastructure work is suggested for five corridors:
— Green Street from Fourth Street to Neil Street in Champaign.
— Green Street from Wright Street to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.
— Wright Street from Armory Avenue to White Street.
— White Street from Wright to Second Street.
— And Armory Avenue from Fourth Street to Wright Street.
As proposed, the design study and actual construction of the entire project would take about five years, beginning in September 2013 and ending in August 2018.
The goal of the project is to expand transportation options and improve connectivity between the Campustown area and the downtown sections, and to lead to economic development, according to the grant application.
The transportation improvements would lead to more urban construction and less fringe development, help attract a diverse, younger population to live here, provide more housing opportunities for skilled workers and create additional job opportunities to support the recruitment of pre-eminent researchers and scholars to the UI, according to the application.
The application calculates the 20-year benefits to the community at more than $940 million, including $488 million in agricultural land preserved and $24 million in transit rider travel times saved.
The streets slated for improvement have pavement conditions now rated from good (the Armory Avenue segment) to poor (the Green Street segment in Urbana).
"This project will not only bring the pavement for these streets to a 'very good' rating, it will upgrade them to meet the adopted complete standards, thus expanding the mobility capacity of the urban core, making for a more accessible, safer and inviting trip for all modes of transportation," said the application.
The project proposes using about $16 million in local funding, of which about $10.4 million would come from the city of Champaign. The MTD would contribute about $3 million, the UI would provide $2 million, and $650,000 would come from the city of Urbana.
In his letter accompanying the application, Champaign Mayor Don Gerard highlighted the Wright Street segment, which he said could become safer and more accessible.
"The street pavement on Wright would be completely removed and replaced with concrete pavement. The design would include a southbound parking lane, bike lanes on both sides of the street, a southbound bus/vehicle lane and a northbound bus-only lane," he said. "It will also allow for a redesign of the intersection of Wright and Green, which has the greatest level of pedestrian and transit movements in the community."
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said improving the Green Street segment in Urbana — where "pavement distress" is visible over more than 50 percent of the surface — "will make for a more accessible, safer and inviting trip for persons and modes of transportation."