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Photo by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Transportation Department reveals plans for federal infrastructure grant

Wednesday, March 16, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar stopped by the City Council Mobility Committee meeting last Thursday to share how the department aspires to use the first round of funding from the federal bipartisan infrastructure law.

The infrastructure law, passed last November, allocates money for national infrastructure investments to be released over a five-year period.

Spillar told the committee that one of bill’s programs, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program, could offer an opportunity for local infrastructure if the city is successful in getting some of the $7.5 billion that is up for grabs.

If granted approval, the city’s Transportation Department plans to help fund a network of urban trails that would connect pedestrians and cyclists in Southeast Austin to the South Congress transit center.

The backbone of the new project is the Bergstrom Spur trail, stretching roughly 6.5 miles from east to west Austin along an old Union Pacific railroad line just south of U.S. Highway 290. Smaller sections include a Country Club Creek extension that would connect Bergstrom Spur with the larger urban trail network by Lady Bird Lake, as well as the South Pleasant Valley connection that will reshape the street’s current dead end into a corridor accommodating future Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority MetroRapid lines.

“We think this project is pretty interesting, because it crosses a number of areas that are historically impoverished,” Spillar said. “It really gets to a need that is multimodal and crosses a lot of needs off for our southern corridor … in an area that is basically a pedestrian and bicycle desert.”

Spillar noted that while the application process is competitive, staffers made an effort to learn from past mistakes in seeking federal funding. “Projects need to secure a minimum of 20 percent funding match, but what we know now is that we really need to be more in the range of 50 percent to be competitive.” 

With a total estimated cost of $40 million, and $20 million available via mobility bonds, staff members anticipate the project is a good candidate. It also benefits from a partnership with Capital Metro, which has proposed installing a number of electric bike stations along the trail network.

Next, the Transportation Department will appear before Council in early April, where staffers hope they will be given the green light. In the meantime, staff will continue coordinating with Texas’ federal representatives to mobilize support.

Photo of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway made available through a Creative Commons license.

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