Bridge project awarded $20 million in TIGER Grant funds

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Funding the balance of $131 million project will fall on Kentucky, Indiana legislatures

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The federal government Wednesday announced it would fund $20 million of the $95 million requested by the transportation agencies of Kentucky and Indiana for replacement of the Milton-Madison Bridge. The grant was split evenly between the two states.

In a news release announcing the recipients of funding from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the grants “will help us meet the 21st century challenges of improving the environment, making our communities more livable and enhancing safety, all while creating jobs and growing the economy.

The Milton-Madison Bridge project was one of 51 projects selected for funding out of a total of 1,343 applications submitted for the grants.

Receiving the most funds was the Crescent Corridor Intermodal Freight program, which was granted $105 million of the $300 million requested from TIGER. The smallest award – $3.15 million – was granted to the Burlington, Vt., Waterfront North project for rebuilding and renovating a waterfront street.

According to the Norfolk Southern Railroad Web site, the Crescent Corridor project is a joint effort between five states – Pennsylvania, joined by Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. The goal is to make $20 billion in improvements to the rail system to increase the amount of freight it can handle by 2020. When fully operational, it is expected to divert as many as 1.3 million long-haul trucks off the interstates annually, resulting in significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and reduce costs of highway accidents involving freight, highway maintenance and save 169 million gallons of fuel.

The CREATE Program in the Chicago area received $100 million of the $162 million requested. A combination of six projects designed to benefit 13 communities in Illinois, CREATE aims to increase the efficiency of the rail system in that region to improve public and freight transportation and reduce gridlock.

In fact, the majority of the projects selected for TIGER funding were those improving major railway and interstate corridors nationwide.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said in a release Wednesday that he is pleased with the federal grant, which “will generate much-needed jobs and result in a lasting benefit – a safe, modern river crossing for generations of citizens of both of our states."

Beshear’s Recommended 2010-16 Highway Plan, currently before the General Assembly, provides for $89.4 million in federal bridge-replacement funding that can be used for the Milton-Madison project. “The TIGER grant will enable us to free up bridge-replacement funds for use elsewhere,” Beshear said.

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the TIGER grant program is intended to fund “shovel-ready” projects needed to improve the nation’s infrastructure and provide jobs to boost U.S. recovery from the current recession.

A total of 1,343 applications were submitted last fall for TIGER grant funding from all 50 states, according to the USDOT Web site. Additionally, 37 applications were submitted by the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam, and by the District of Columbia.

The total amount requested far outpaced the amount set aside: 13 states asked for as much as or more than the $1.5 billion available. The state of Florida, alone, submitted 115 applications totaling more than $4.2 billion. Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials are seeking $95 million for the $131 million project. The two states each have pledged $18 million to cover what TIGER doesn’t.

On Monday, prior to the USDOT announcement, John Carr, project manager, said project officials were “hoping for the best right now, because this was the best opportunity we had, right now, to get funding.”

Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates, the Lexington firm hired by Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to oversee development of the bridge project, said he and other project officials will to discuss “alternative financing” mechanisms that may be available with the Indiana and Kentucky legislatures while they are in session for 2010. 

Environmental Assessment nearly complete

While they awaited word of the TIGER funding, officials for the proposed Milton-Madison Bridge replacement project have not been sitting idle.

Carr said the final version of the Memorandum of Agreement is awaiting a signature from the Advisory Council for Historic Places in Washington, D.C., and then will be complete. The MOA is the final portion of the Environmental Assessment required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

The MOA outlines what state and federal transportation officials will do to reduce anticipated negative impact of the bridge replacement project, including the economic impact and any impact on the neighboring historic districts.

The document includes $40,000 for the city of Milton for tourism and promotional marketing to help continue attracting visitors to the northern Trimble County area while the bridge project is under way and after it’s completed.

Another stipulation in the MOA involves restoration of a black-and-white film documenting the opening ceremony for the existing bridge in December 1929. Carr said the film will be restored by a company in Maryland recommended by the Eastman Kodak Company. Once completed, DVD copies of the film will be distributed to area libraries and historical societies.

With the Environmental Assessment completed, Carr said the last hurdle is to get the final signatures for the Finding of No Significant Impact, the final document required by NEPA. Carr said he expects the document will be signed by the Kentucky Division of the Federal Highway Administration by Feb. 26.

With these documents finalized, officials will have all the required federal paperwork completed and then, Carr said, begin the process of soliciting bids from contractors.

Bids will be opened May 19, and Carr said the contract should be awarded in mid-June.

Carr said only contracting firms that have handled major river bridge-building projects will be eligible to bid on the Milton-Madison project. He said there are about 25 such companies in the U.S. The winning bidder also will be required to have a qualified design firm.

“We’ll get big-name players teaming up on this,” he said.