This past Monday, March 19, the City of Birmingham submitted an application for a $23 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Represented in the city’s submission is a coalition of public, private, institutional and nonprofit entities from throughout the Birmingham region that have come together around the citizen-driven plan for a countywide system of greenways and trails, recently designated as the Red Rock Ridge and Valley System.
Submitted under the title “Roads to Recovery: A Complete Streets and Multimodal Transportation System for Greater Birmingham,” the application proposes several projects that will facilitate continued recovery from the tornado-related pounding our community has taken in just the past 14 months. Since the beginning of January 2011, Jefferson County has been hit by 10 tornadoes, including the devastating storms of last April 27 and the twister that struck Center Point and Clay just weeks ago, killing two people.
The centerpiece of the “Roads to Recovery” plan is replacement of roads in Pratt City that were damaged by heavy equipment during cleanup from the tornado that struck there on April 27 of last year. The project will replace damaged roadways with “complete streets,” meaning the new streets will include sidewalks and bike lanes to encourage healthy activity and enhance access to transportation sources. The applicants are hopeful that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who visited Pratt City in the aftermath of the tornado and pledged his support for efforts to rebuild the community, will see this as an opportunity to do so.
Other projects in the application are completion of entrance roads to Red Mountain Park — as well as trails in the park’s master plan that will directly enhance access to transportation options, recreational opportunities and public heath facilities — and complete street programs near historic Civil Rights sites and in the Shades Creek/Lakeshore Parkway/West Oxmoor area.
The funds being sought would come from the highly competitive Transportation Initiatives Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program. This is the fourth round of funding to be offered under the program. Birmingham submitted an unsuccessful application for these same programs last fall, but the coalition members I’ve spoken to over the past few days are cautiously hopeful that TIGER IV will be Birmingham’s time.
“This application presents what we think is a compelling narrative of the burden our community has been under in dealing with tornado recovery,” Brian Rushing told me. Rushing is director of land conservation for the Freshwater Land Trust, the nonprofit organization driving the Red Rock Plan. The land trust has been instrumental in assembling and expanding the coalition supporting the grant application.
Organizations and individuals in Birmingham and Jefferson County, Rushing added, “have been extraordinary in working to meet unmet needs from the tornadoes. Helping people who suffered total losses of their homes because they were uninsured, for example. The philanthropic community has stepped up. The city and county have done all they can to absorb expenses for street and road repairs. We think that’s important for DOT to consider when they’re looking at where grant dollars will make the most difference.”
Besides having demonstrable needs that closely mirror the criteria of the TIGER program, Rushing pointed out a couple of other differences in this application and the one that was rejected last fall. First, there are more local matching dollars, with commitments from both public and private entities having grown from $6.7 million to just under $7 million. Perhaps even more importantly, the coalition supporting the application has grown in size — the prior application had 50 letters of support, while the current one has 73 — and added such influential members as Alabama Power Company and UAB to its roster. (See the list of TIGER supporters on weldbham.com).
Indeed, besides — and perhaps including — the shovel-turning projects that will be funded by TIGER IV, the most lasting contribution of this process to the progress of the community is the process itself. The coalition that came together for the rejected TIGER III application not only re-formed quickly around the new opportunity — it expanded. As noted in prior writing in this space about TIGER III, this process can and should be a model for the way we tackle both issues and opportunities that affect us in ways that go far beyond the artificial boundaries of race, political persuasion, or place of residence.
With this in mind, it bears mentioning that, by having the city take the lead in the submission of the TIGER IV application, Mayor William Bell is doing something we need more of — from him and others who sit at the levers of power in the Birmingham region. Along with the other partners in the TIGER IV coalition, the mayor is acting in a spirit of cooperation and coordination and taking concrete steps toward realizing a shared vision of our future.
Announcement of DOT’s awards of TIGER IV funding is expected within the next six weeks or so, possibly sooner. Weld will continue to follow this process.
Mark Kelly is the publisher of Weld. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.