Federal grant key for Burke-Gilman Trail improvements

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Burke-Gilman Trail

Burke-Gilman Trail -

Bikers cross a newly renovated section of the Burke-Gilman Trail next to Mercer Court. Federal funds would streamline similar renovation processes on other parts of the trail. 

Photo by Alisa Reznick

Time is running short for UW Transportation Services (UWTS) as it places the finishing touches on an application requesting federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) with a deadline set for June 3.

“I’m not expecting to get any sleep for the rest of this week,” said UW Transportation Services Director Josh Kavanagh jokingly. “We are preparing a compelling application.”

The UW will request $12 million from the USDOT through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant program to help complete funding for the upcoming Burke-Gilman Trail Multi-Modal Connector project. 

The project aims to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, enhance connection to the regional transit network by aligning the routes with the University Link light rail, prevent overcrowding of the trail, and provide better access to businesses and economic centers throughout the Seattle area.

Receiving the TIGER grants would significantly improve the project’s chances of aligning the completion date with the University Link project in 2016. The simultaneous completion of both projects will help realize the innovative transit connection between all of downtown Seattle, the U-District, and north Seattle. 

“This [grant] can help us avoid breaking this project up,” Kavanagh said.

If the UW does not receive the grant, improvements to the trail will have to be completed in smaller sections as funding becomes available, which could delay the completion of the project well past the 2016 date. 

Kavanagh estimates that the applications will undergo evaluation by the USDOT between 60 and 90 days after the deadline. Regardless of the outcome, UWTS aims to continue making preparations in the final designs. 

“We are committed to fully designing the entire project to make it shovel-ready status so we can get it in time for the University Link,” Kavanagh said. “Light rail station will be responsible for about 30,000 passengers a day by September 2016.” 

Major Initiatives, Communication, and Engagement (MICE) Coordinator of UW Transportation Services Alicia Halberg said the immediate benefit that would come from the completion of this project is the improved separation between different modes of transportation.

“Major improvement in the mode separation will help prevent overcrowding of the trails,” Halberg said. “It’s important, especially when the Burke-Gilman scored poor to failing ratings in the Level of Service.”

The Level of Service (LOS) model is a mathematical formula used by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that measures such features as speed and travel time, freedom to maneuver, traffic interruptions, and comfort and convenience. Among trail versions of the LOS calculations model, the Burke-Gilman trail scored E (poor) and F (failing) ratings in accommodating bicyclists.

Halberg said it is extremely competitive, as only 4 percent of all applicants are chosen by the USDOT. Despite the odds of being selected, Halberg was optimistic about the end result of the application submitted by the UW.

“The Puget Sound region has done well in the past in receiving the grants,” Halberg said. “Biking- and pedestrian-related projects also help [our chances] since they recognize that they are very important.”

UW Director of Regional and Community Relations Theresa Doherty said one criterion that the USDOT gives major consideration to among its applicants is the level of local support being given to the project. 

“There needs to be signs of local support. We’ve received letters of support from the chamber of commerce, local businesses, King County Council, local businesses, and Sen. Patty Murray,” Doherty said.

Approximately 5,000 citizens stated they wanted to be on record in providing support via an online petition for the proposed improvements on the Burke-Gilman trail. 

“Because the Burke-Gilman means so much for the people, we wanted to give them an opportunity to tell their story and participate,” Kavanagh said. “And those [5,000 people in] numbers are still a small fraction of people that actually use the trail.”

Reach reporter KJ Hiramoto at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @HiramotoKJ

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