Joplin will receive a substantial amount — $12 million — from a federal grant announced Tuesday toward $23.5 million in street projects, moving up the possibility of constructing train overpasses on two major corridors on which grade crossings now can create traffic delays and congestion.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said the award by the U.S. Department of Transportation will bring federal aid to Joplin’s tornado recovery up to $250 million.
“This is really good news,” City Manager Mark Rohr said via email. “It will help us make much-needed infrastructure improvements” in the tornado-stricken zone.
City officials said the money will be used to end traffic delays at train crossings on two key routes, 15th and 20th streets, by building overpasses. It also will 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.
According to the city’s grant application, which sought $17.9 million, those corridors became choked with traffic after the May 2011 tornado, creating delays in reaching hospitals and providing other emergency services.
Joplin’s location as a regional employment and trade center brings heavy traffic to the city during the day, putting a severe strain on traffic and on emergency responders trying to get through the city to answer calls and take people to hospitals, according to the grant application.
That impediment would increase in the next 20 years as Kansas City Southern Railway Co. has projected that train traffic will increase from 15 trips through the city a day to 29 as demand for rail transportation rises. Traffic accidents, and related injury and property loss, also could increase. Accidents on those streets have an injury rate of 28 percent, compared with 20 percent for the rest of the city, according to the grant application.
The city had been setting aside money from two sales taxes — the three-eighths-cent capital projects tax and the half-cent transportation tax — toward the projects. According to the grant documents, the city has allocated about $5.4 million of those funds toward the projects that could be used to match the federal grant and $200,000 in state funds.
That would leave the city short about $5 million of the total cost for all the projects. The two railroad overpasses are estimated to cost $15 million combined. Construction could start next year if the funding is in place.
“We haven’t had time to analyze all the numbers yet to determine how the amount will impact both projects, as the announcement just happened today,” Rohr said. “We will examine the financial picture in the near future and report back to council and the citizens in terms of what this means for the two specific projects in question.”
McCaskill said many communities applied for money from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary fund. “I think Joplin was selected because of the acute need,” she said. “This is the only funding to flow into Missouri in this round of TIGER funds.” The Department of Transportation had $500 million it could allocate to applicants. Last year, TIGER grants were given to 46 projects in 33 states and Puerto Rico.
Asked how Joplin succeeded where other grant requests did not, McCaskill said: “I think their application was very strong, and they won on their merits. I am most proud that we have paid attention to Joplin a year after the tornado, and that we do what we can to help in an amazing story of a city that has come back from unspeakable disaster to a thriving community.”
Joplin’s approximate $250 million in federal aid has included $45 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, $83 million for debris removal, $22 million for schools, $60 million for temporary operations and reconstruction of Mercy Hospital, and $40 million in low-interest loans to residents and businesses.
McCaskill said Joplin should be at the top or near the top of the list of cities that have received disaster aid in the past year. “It is a long list of federal programs that have come to the aid of Joplin, and I’m proud we’ve all worked together on this on a bipartisan basis to make these things happen,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who also has worked to obtain federal assistance for Joplin, said in a written statement: “I am pleased that DOT awarded this grant to fund a significant infrastructure project that will affect the entire Southwest Missouri region for generations. This project will help facilitate traffic and improve transportation access to the Joplin area, which is critically important as we work to rebuild and spur new economic development after last year’s devastating tornado.”
Proposed project costs
15th Street train overpass: $8 million.
20th Street train overpass: $7 million.
Maiden Lane widening: $4 million.
Schifferdecker Avenue widening: $2 million.
26th Street widening: $2 million.
20th Street transit upgrades: $500,000.