Wichita’s first bid for a federal grant for passenger rail service is turned down

09/05/2013 4:00 PM

08/06/2014 11:07 AM

The federal government said no on Thursday to the city of Wichita’s first bid for a transportation grant to bring passenger rail back to downtown.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced 52 grants in 37 states totaling approximately $474 million. Projects ranging from bike trails to bridge repair or replacement and port expansion will be funded under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program.

Wichita sought $12.7 million to essentially complete the planning – though not the construction – for the possible extension of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer line to Wichita and Newton. The plan would connect the Heartland Flyer with the Southwest Chief line and close a 185-mile service gap from Oklahoma City to Wichita.

Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, who is leading the city’s passenger rail efforts, said the 2013 TIGER application won’t be the city’s last. City officials will begin working with the state on other funding options for the studies necessary to finish planning for the extension. They believe that the Heartland Flyer extension is a better candidate for federal funding when it’s “shovel-ready.”

“The good thing about going through this process is we’ll know what mistakes we made for when we can try again,” Meitzner said.

Meitzner said he’ll work with Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King’s office to analyze how the city’s grant application can be improved in the future.

Union Station’s new owners said the decision has no impact on their plans to revitalize the facility as a retail and office hub downtown.

“None whatsoever,” said Gary Oborny, chairman of Occidental Management, which bought the old train station earlier this year.

“Disappointing for sure, but if Pete’s ready to go again, so are we,” said Chad Stafford, president of Occidental Management. “Obviously, we know this is a process that can take time. This is an example of the need to spend more time with Kansas City and Oklahoma City to get this accomplished.”

Wichita and Kansas are part of a six-state consortium studying passenger rail expansion in the South and the Great Plains. In addition, the mayors of Wichita, Oklahoma City and Kansas City have a joint letter of cooperation to extend the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City through Wichita to Kansas City.

In a call with reporters, Foxx said applications for the 2013 grants totaled more than $9 billion, well above the money set aside for the program. The transportation department received 585 applications from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

“Every state in this nation has a to-do list,” Foxx said.

Kansas City, Mo., officials received $20 million to build a two-mile streetcar line from the River Market area to the Crown Center/Union Station area through the Main Street corridor.

Oklahoma City received $13.5 million for its intermodal transportation hub.

TIGER grants, now in their fifth round, are among the only federal funding sources for large, multi-modal projects that often are not suitable for other federal funding.

Rural areas were targeted for 25 projects funded at $123 million, such as $2.2 million to pave gravel streets and earth roads in the remote village of Alakanuk, Alaska, population 695.

The funds are meant to piggyback on money from other sources, including private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies.

The 2013 TIGER round will support $1.8 billion in overall project investments, the department said in a statement.

Gregory Ballard, the mayor of Indianapolis, said the city’s transit arm would use a $10 million grant to replace up to 25 diesel buses with electric buses as part of a “ post-oil technology“ strategy.

In Texas, a $10 million grant to the Houston Bayport Wharf extension project will allow the terminal to double its capacity by 2033 and handle the larger ships expected after expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.

For a complete list of projects, see http://www.dot.gov/tiger/.

Contributing: Reuters

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