East Stadium bridges project in Ann Arbor awarded nearly $14 million in federal funding
Ann Arbor officials have been heavily criticized over the past year for holding off on repairing the failing East Stadium Boulevard bridges. It turns out that was a good bet.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding $13.9 million to allow the city of Ann Arbor to reconstruct the two bridge spans, Congressman John Dingell announced today.
"It's a great validation of the approach that we decided to take to make sure we accessed every opportunity to leverage federal and state dollars while still setting a deadline to make sure we improved the bridge one way or another," said City Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward. "It looks like we got that balance right, and this is a huge win for the people of Ann Arbor and for the future of our road system that would have suffered significantly if we had to tap into the millage money to repair the bridge."
The federal funding through the Tiger II program is a major announcement for the city, which has been applying for funding for years to reconstruct the bridges over South State Street. Officials say it's about a $23 million project and would have crippled the city's ability to repair local streets for the next few years if it had to pay for the bridges on its own.
"It's absolutely tremendous," said City Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, reacting to the news today.
"It's like an early Christmas and it's something, with Thanksgiving coming up, that we have to be thankful for," Derezinski said. "John Dingell was with us from the beginning on this and gave us some hints in terms of how we could structure the project to be attractive. He brought high-ranking officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation to see the problem. Certainly the president saw it when he flew over it for commencement. And we just have a lot to be thankful for — this is a substantial part of the money we need."
Dingell's office said in a news release that the congressman has been fighting for the funding for more than a year, and his efforts included bringing U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari to Ann Arbor to meet with officials and see the poor condition of the bridges for himself in May. Dingell also credited Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
“I want to commend Secretary LaHood and Deputy Secretary Porcari for recognizing the great need the city of Ann Arbor has in reconstructing the bridges along East Stadium Boulevard," Dingell said in a statement. "This corridor serves as a critical to link to one of the strongest and most successful parts of Michigan’s economy. The city of Ann Arbor and the university serve as a leader in the state of Michigan for small business spin-offs, academic talent, and innovative research, and this reconstruction will enable this success to continue."
The bridges carry more than 48,000 vehicles per day. Since January 2009, traffic has been reduced to one lane in each direction on the north side of the bridge after an inspection showed a small deflection in one of the beams under the eastbound traffic.
The bridge over South State Street was built in 1917, and the bridge over the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks was built in 1928.
Repairs are scheduled to begin in the spring.
Porcari peered up at what remains of the failing bridge span above South State Street in May and called what he saw "pathetic." He said Ann Arbor made a good case for its bridges, but it was likely only a handful of cities across the country would get a portion of the $600 million pot of money awarded through the TIGER II grant program.
The fact that the Stadium bridges are a vital link to the University of Michigan, which is a statewide economic powerhouse, helped the city's application rise to the top as the federal government's criteria for the grant weighted the significance of the economic impact.
"There had to be a huge number of applications," Dingell said by phone today, adding that Ann Arbor beat difficult odds to get its project approved for grant funding.
"Money is tight. The administration is under constant pressure and, of course, there's a tremendous competition for different kinds of federal programs and federal assistance," he said. "This application had to be an extraordinarily good one."
"Frankly, it's the result of real teamwork," Dingell added, "on the part of the city, Mayor Hieftje, the council, particularly Margie Teall, and of course our two senators and my colleague from next door, Congressman Mark Schauer. We all pitched in together with the city, the university and the state, city and county elected officials, and you see the end result."
Dingell also secured $450,000 in the fiscal year 2011 Transportation, House and Urban Affairs Appropriations bill, which passed the House by a vote of 251 to 167 on July 29, his office said.
Homayoon Pirooz, head of the city's project management unit, said the nearly $14 million awarded today is the entire amount the city asked for in its application to the federal government. Pirooz said the city still is waiting to hear back from the state on two other grants — one for $1.5 million, which is a federal enhancement grant administered by the state, and one for $3 million in local bridge funds. He said announcements should be made soon on both.
"That brings us close to $18.5 million," he said. "The rest of that likely will come from our street construction millage and also the utility fund."
Pirooz said the city spends about $7 million to $8 million on streets every year, so the $14 million the city will save represents a couple of years worth of road work.
"Now that $14 million, every penny of it will be put back in to the city's streets," he said. "A lot of the road projects that we were not sure whether we could actually begin next year, now they very likely will be reconstructed and resurfaced as planned."
Derezinski echoed those sentiments.
"The fact now that we have $14 million of the approximately $23 million means that the funds we otherwise would have taken out of our road funds can now go to the roads themselves that are on a cycle of repair that we can get back to," he said. "Obviously this (the Stadium bridges) was our first priority because of the danger involved, and now we can meet that and can get back to the other projects that need funding."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.