Economic Development

Transportation Secretary Praises Smart2 Application

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At an event in Washington Tuesday, the city’s application that won a $10.85 million infrastructure grant received praise from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The area group that drafted the application for the Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – or Smart2 Network – traveled to Washington for the formal grant announcement.

Representatives from Eastgate Regional Council of governments, the city of Youngstown, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Mercy Health – Youngstown, Youngstown State University and the Western Reserve Transit Authority were notified last Thursday that they had been awarded the grant to fund infrastructure improvements along and near Fifth Avenue.

Chao announced $1.5 billion in discretionary grant funding to 91 projects in 49 states and the District of Columbia through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (Build) Transportation Grants Program. According to Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate, 851 communities applied for the funds.

“Build transportation grants are major investments in road, rail, transit and port projects that serve as a down payment on this administration’s commitment to America’s infrastructure,” Chao said in a statement.

During the announcement event, Chao commented that the Smart2 project “was a great example of the intent of the Build grants,” bringing together public-private partnerships to move a community, Kinnick said.

“She went out of her way to point out how innovative she thought our approach was and how collaborative our team was,” said Mike Hripko, YSU vice president for external affairs, government relations and economic development. “She singled us out for our persistence and determination to be successful.”

Local officials had applied twice for federal funds for the project through the Department of Transportation’s Tiger – or Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery – program, the predecessor to Build. Eastgate, the regional transportation planning agency, submitted the revised application this summer.

“That dedication is what got this grant over the finish line. I’m thrilled to have been in the trenches with them fighting for this critical project,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio said in a statement.

“One reason we got it this go-round rather than the previous times is we worked with the city to be sure that this application had a lot of private sector involvement,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said during a conference call.

The grant “will not only improve the infrastructure in Youngstown, but also improve economic development broadly in the Mahoning Valley,” said Portman.

“This federal investment will be transformative for the city of Youngstown and our entire region. This announcement was the culmination of years of hard work and a highly collaborative, public-private partnership,” Ryan said.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, also met with the local group.

“We were pleased to have the opportunity to personally thank our state and federal legislators for their support of our project,” Kinnick said.

In addition to the Fifth Avenue upgrades, which will include reducing the number of lanes on the road, the grant will go toward a $22 million project that will include improvements to Commerce, Federal, Front and Phelps streets and Park Avenue.

Other upgrades will include adding transit waiting stations, pedestrian and bicycle facilities and implementing autonomous shuttles serving downtown, YSU, St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital and the Joseph Co. International manufacturing and research complex on the East Side.

The local partners will meet Friday to strategize the next steps, Kinnick said.

“We’re looking to develop a scope and schedule for the various phases by early next year, with the goal of some type of construction late 2019 or early 2020,” he said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.