No TIGER Grant for Burke-Gilman Trail

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

After failing to receive a federal grant, the completion of proposed improvements to the Burke-Gilman Trail may be delayed well past the goal date of 2016.

Despite submitting an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in June, which included a petition of approximately 5,000 online signatures, the UW came up short in winning an extremely competitive federal grant program. The UW was unable to win the requested $12 million from the USDOT through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant program. The winning grant was expected to help speed up the progress for the upcoming Burke-Gilman Trail Multi-Modal Connector project.

“I’m disappointed,” said UW Director of Regional and Community Relations Theresa Doherty. “We had a lot of support from every level, from the state, city, and the local community.”

The project aims to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, enhance connections 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 grant could have significantly improved the project’s chances of aligning the completion date with the University Link project in 2016. Now, the proposed improvements of the trail will have to be completed in smaller sections as funding becomes available.

“This does mean that we won’t be able to collapse the phases,” said UW Transportation Services (UWTS) Director Josh Kavanagh. “The grant would have paid [for the project] all at once.”

Despite the lost opportunity, the UW plans on continuing with the project while looking to build a “plan B” for additional funding sources. Kavanagh expects the first phase of construction, from Rainier Vista to 15th Avenue Northeast, to start in December. In the meantime, he and Doherty hope to get together and speak with UW Federal Relations this week to brainstorm ways to finance the ensuing steps of the project. After that, they plan on meeting with the Seattle City Council and Puget Sound Regional Council, the organization that is funding the first construction phase.

“Every $2 to $3 million adds up,” Doherty said. “I’m confident we can work things out with these smaller funding sources.”

UWTS has yet to determine whether or not they will be applying for the TIGER grant again in the future. UW Director of Federal Relations Christy Gullion said that complications with the university’s eligibility often puts the UW at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving transportation grants from other federal sources.

“The university isn’t eligible for all sources so we [often] have to team up,” Gullion said. “It makes it a lot tougher because we will need to find an entity that can sponsor the university before even competing.”

With the Burke-Gilman Trail currently scoring poor to fail ratings in the Level of Service due to overcrowding and narrow spaces, both the Washington state Legislature and the UW realize the need to finish the project as soon as possible.

“We had congressional groups come walk by the trail and they [immediately] noticed that it was overcrowded with bikers and pedestrians,” Gullion said. “It really demonstrated the need to improve our trail.”

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

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