The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 29, 2013

Joplin receives federal OK to keep $12 million grant

By Debby Woodin

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin will receive all of a $12 million federal highway grant it won last year despite the deletion of what became a controversial viaduct project on 15th Street.

City officials have been notified of the decision by the Federal Highway Administration to leave the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — or TIGER — discretionary grant intact. Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said on Jan. 17 that she had spoken with Ray LaHood, federal transportation secretary, and that Joplin likely would be allowed to retain the money awarded for street projects.

“We were able to listen to the voices of the citizens and communicate with our state and federal officials, and look what happens,” the mayor said. “We had a win-win situation for everybody. We appreciate the work of our state and federal officials to help Joplin’s recovery (from the 2011 tornado) continue.”

Colbert-Kean said the decision is an example of partnerships among local, state and federal government officials paying off.

Local officials had worried that deleting the 15th Street project from plans for the grant would prompt federal officials to withhold part of the $12 million.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce, who along with Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg helped those affected by the 15th Street project bring forward their concerns, said: “I think it was the right decision. In reading the grant application and the award information, there was nothing in there that said anything about the 15th Street project having to be done in order for the 20th street project to be done. The 15th Street project was an addendum to the grant application.”

The grant award was announced last June.

City officials at that time said the money would be used to end traffic delays at train crossings on 15th and 20th streets by building overpasses. It also would provide better traffic flow to heavily used parts of the city such as the medical district by helping to pay for the completion of widening of Schifferdecker Avenue, Maiden Lane and 26th Street.

The city had sought $17.9 million in total to do the street widening work, build the 20th Street overpass and fund preliminary design work on the 15th Street project. About $5.4 million raised by two city sales taxes — the three-eighths-cent capital projects tax and the half-cent transportation tax — had been set aside to help fund the projects. The city was still about $1.5 million short of funds to build the 15th Street viaduct when the controversy arose.

Opposition surfaced last month when the City Council was asked to approve formal acceptance of the grant.

A number of business owners said erecting a bridge over the tracks on 15th Street and closing its junction with Illinois Avenue would eliminate walk-in customers and the easy access customers have to their operations. Some business owners said they would have to close.

The city staff said those concerns and the resulting opposition were premature. The city had not yet drafted final design plans and held discussions with the affected property owners or determined how much they would be compensated for any losses they sustained.

Troy Richards, a co-owner of Joplin Building Materials at 15th Street and Illinois Avenue, said he is glad to know the city will receive the grant money. “I’m glad to see they are going to be able to keep the grant money and do the projects they wanted to do like Maiden Lane and Schifferdecker. They are worthy. I hope they can put more money into 20th Street and do it even better than they planned.”

Federal money

THE TIGER GRANT raised the amount of money Joplin received from the federal government for recovery from the 2011 tornado to $250 million, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said last year.