Feds Turn Down Lordstown ‘Build’ Grant Requests

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Applicants for a pair of federal Build grants to plan and fund infrastructure upgrades in the village of Lordstown say they’ll likely regroup and reapply for funds after learning their initial requests were denied.

A local partnership group led by the Western Reserve Port Authority applied for planning and implementation funding for infrastructure improvements in Lordstown to capitalize on electric vehicle projects in the village, including the Lordstown Motors Corp. and the Ultium Cells battery plants.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced Wednesday that 70 projects in 44 states were awarded a combined $1 billion through the fiscal 2020 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or Build — Transportation Discretionary Grants program.

In addition to the port authority, the local partnership included Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Youngstown State University and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. The group sought $25 million for construction and $881,000 for planning to develop a smart mobility corridor in Lordstown. Planned upgrades included an intermodal facility utilizing autonomous vehicles, a smart fiber corridor extending from the village to downtown Warren, and a mobility data center.

Projects in two Ohio cities were awarded funds. The Glass City Riverwalk in Toledo received nearly $23.7 million and the first phase of the Greater Cleveland Transit Authority Rail Car Replacement Program received $15 million.

The grants, half of which were awarded for projects in rural areas, are for planning and capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure. They were awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact, according to the Transportation Department.

A Transportation spokesman confirmed that Wednesday’s announcement encompassed all of the fiscal 2020 Build grant awards.

As of Wednesday afternoon, John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, said he had not been officially notified that the two applications had been rejected. But he was alerted earlier in the day to the list of funded projects posted on the Transportation website.

“We still think it’s a great project,” Moliterno said. “We’ll reconvene to discuss it. But I would certainly think from the port’s standpoint that this is a strong enough project that we’ll reapply.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and a representative for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman expressed regret that the applications weren’t approved.

“While I was disappointed that the Lordstown Build grant was not approved this year, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that their application is approved in the next round of funding,” Ryan said. “In the meantime, my office will continue to work in tandem with local leaders, federal research institutions and local businesses to create a new economy in Lordstown built around the Voltage Valley concept.”

On behalf of Portman, spokeswoman Emmalee Kalback said, “Senator Portman is disappointed like everyone else in the Lordstown community. He strongly supported their Build application and will continue to work with them on future grant applications.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reiterated the senator’s support for the port authority’s allocation to support the creation of the LordstownSmart Logistics Hub.

“It’s disappointing that the Department of Transportation did not select this project,” the spokesperson continued. “Senator Brown and our office will never stop fighting for the Mahoning Valley, and will continue to advocate for the funding of this project in future rounds.”

Moliterno and Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director, said they expect to meet with Transportation officials to discuss the applications and where improvements could be made on future applications.

Moliterno noted that the $10.85 million Build grant the local group secured for transportation infrastructure improvements in downtown Youngstown was unsuccessful twice before securing the funds in 2018.

“We certainly understand it’s a very competitive grant across the country,” Kinnick said.

In addition, the partners will continue to explore other funding opportunities through state and federal legislators, he said.

Pictured at top: The grant applications, totaling nearly $26 million, sought funding to build infrastructure in the village of Lordstown that would support the development of the electric vehicle industry.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.