SMAR2T Bid Denied, Ryan, Brown Seek Other Sources

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown pledged Friday to seek other funds in support of the Youngstown SMAR2T Network after learning that the project was denied funding in the latest round of the Tiger program.

Last fall, 12 partners here applied for $10.3 million from the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery program to fund the Strategic Medical, Academic, Residential, Recreational and Technology – or SMAR2T — Corridor. An earlier application for $15.5 million was denied in 2016.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday it had awarded nearly $500 million to 41 projects in 43 states through this Tiger – and perhaps final — round. President Donald Trump has said he wants to eliminate the program.

“I felt our application was very strong. I felt it met the intent of Tiger,” said Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. He was pleased that the local partners could provide the 50% match needed to qualify for the grant.

Eastgate applied on behalf of Youngstown, Youngstown State University, Mercy Health, Eastern Gateway Community College, Youngstown Business Incubator, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, Raymond John Wean Foundation, Youngstown Foundation, Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Mill Creek MetroParks and Western Reserve Transit Authority.

The only successful applicant in Ohio is the city of Akron, awarded $8 million to fund the second phase of its downtown promenade project.

“It is a highly competitive grant program,” Kinnick said. More than 400 entities applied the previous round, he said, and only $500 million was awarded.

A USDOT news release announcing the awards noted that more than 64% of the grants awarded this round go to rural projects.

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, praised the award to Akron in a news release Thursday but the following day criticized the Department of Transportation for passing over Youngstown’s application. Both cities are in his congressional district.

“Had the federal Tiger program received enough support from the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s likely Youngstown would have won an award,” Ryan said.

According to data his office provided, Tiger funding has been reduced to $500 million the last three rounds from $1.5 billion its initial round in 2009. It was $474 million in the fifth round.

Ryan and his staff had worked several years with the leadership team for the Youngstown application and he was enthusiastic about the progress the applicants made. “Their application was very impressive,” he said.

“I am confident that the Youngstown SMAR2T Network will advance and I will continue to help identify and secure as much funding as possible to bring this project to fruition, including pressing the Trump administration for additional funding for the Tiger grant program,” Ryan said.

Brown, D-Ohio, also said he would work on Youngstown’s behalf to secure funds for the SMAR2T project. Last October, Brown wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of the project. Early last week he introduced a bill to fund bridge repairs.

“Local communities that are strapped for cash need federal grant programs to help update cities and towns,” Brown said Friday, “and efforts to cut Tiger and other programs that help Ohio build new infrastructure will hurt local economies.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Friday there is “no shortage of good grant applications from Ohio this year” or of “serious infrastructure challenges” throughout the state.

“I support Youngstown’s efforts to invest in job creation and community revitalization, and I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure that a potential infrastructure package would provide communities across Ohio to meet their needs,” he said.

Pictured: A rendering of upgrades to Fifth Avenue if the city was awarded a Department of Transportation Tiger grant. Local partners remain committed to implementing this project

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.