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TIGER brings joy to Normal, IL, as Uptown Station opens on time and on budget

This is a guest post by Kathleen Woodruff, T4America’s Illinois Statewide Field Organizer.

Over 11 years in the making, the July 14 grand opening of Normal, IL’s multi-modal transportation center brought together T4A partner organizations, local officials, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood and US Senator Dick Durbin. The project, designed to revitalize the downtown and provide transit connections, was given a huge boost when awarded one of the first TIGER grants in the nation.

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) is a competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This merit-based program allows cities, states, and regions to apply for funding for innovative projects large and small. It is one of the few ways local communities can access federal funding directly.

Normal, IL, Mayor Chris Koos cuts the ribbon on Uptown Station as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Senator Dick Durbin look on.

The $45.9 million project received $22 million from TIGER, as well as $10.6 million in additional federal funding and more than $13 million in state and local contributions. Six months after receiving funds, it was the first TIGER project in the nation to break ground and begin construction. The Uptown Normal multimodal transportation center was completed on time and within budget.

Two years ago, Transportation for America’s Illinois Field Organizer Kathleen Woodruff joined coalition partner Brian Imus, IL PIRG, and Campaign director, James Corless for the center’s ground breaking — highlighting TIGER grants as exactly the type of federal investment that should occur nation wide: Making Normal the new Norm.

“Key to our Uptown master plan for the beginning was a transportation center designed to provide a multistory anchor for redevelopment,” Mayor Koos said. “Uptown station is something all Normal’s citizens can admire and be proud of, an example of elegant design, sustainability and quality that will last for generations.”

The new station will be able to accommodate consistently growing Amtrak ridership, and is opening in advance of new 110 mph service, which should start in September. Once complete, Amtrak trains will make trips from Chicago to Normal in about two hours and to St. Louis from Normal in less than two and one half hours.

The TIGER program funds innovative new transportation projects that support economic growth across the country. Unfortunately, the TIGER program was not included in the most recent Senate transportation bill, MAP-21. Projects of Regional and National Significance  —  a program that bears some similarities  —  was included, but regrettably it would not allow cities or regions to apply directly for funds, nor would it fund smaller projects like Normal’s multi-modal station.

Hopefully, Congress will choose to continue funding the TIGER program to allow cities and regions the ability improve transportation in their community  —  even if they aren’t gigantic mega-projects.

“Uptown Station is a prime example of a federal investment paying dividends for local taxpayers,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. “I have secured more than $10.6 million in federal earmark funding for this state-of-the-art facility since 2003. Those earmarks, combined with additional federal support from a $22 million TIGER grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, have helped Normal create what will become the national model for multimodal stations.”

“Construction of this facility supported hundreds of jobs and generated millions in economic activity for the Bloomington-Normal region,” says Senator Durbin, “Yet, today’s ribbon cutting is just the beginning.  In the years to come, this station will continue serving as an economic engine for Bloomington-Normal and Central Illinois.”