It’s Our Time: Funding Comes Through for RR Overpass
Tue, 07/20/2021 - 2:23pm admin
Amanda Mendez, Publisher
On July 1, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $2.2 million grant to the city of West Plains to make critical railroad infrastructure improvements to support job creation and economic resiliency efforts. This EDA project, to be matched with $3.9 million in other federal, state, and local funds, is expected to create 50 jobs and generate $31.4 million in private investment. The overpass will be located at U.S. Highway 160 and Independence Drive, and will replace an at-grade railway and highway intersection.
Howell County News sat down with Planning Director Emily Gibson and Director of Transportation Brian Mitchell on July 15 to discuss the history and future of the overpass project.
The total cost of the project will be $9.5 million, said Gibson. The money will come from a total of seven funding agencies: the $2.25 described above, a $2.5 million grant in Community Development Block Grant funds (CDBG) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), $1 million from Delta Regional, $350,000 from Burlington Northern Railroad, $250,000 from Leonardo DRS, and $634,737 from the City of West Plains in cash and in-kind funds.
When asked how the overpass will impact the average person living in West Plains, Gibson talked about the 2017 floods when Howell Creek rose and made the road impassable.
“You couldn’t get across town. In emergencies, we will now have a connection,” she said.
The public safety aspect is important, but economic development for West Plains will come hand-in-hand. One of West Plains’ largest employers, Leonardo DRS is investing more than $30 million and creating dozens of jobs.
The quest for funding for the overpass has persevered through eleven failed attempts at grants. Mitchell said the grants the City applied for were highly competitive, and the seemingly humble overpass had to compete with splashier projects out of St. Louis and Springfield.
“It’s hard to stand out in a crowd,” Mitchell said “It’s our time.”
Mitchell said federal grant-making agencies generally liked the project and the City’s applications in the past, but the funding never worked out until now.
Both Mitchell and Gibson credited Cody Dalton at SCOCOG for orchestrating a funding push across the multiple agencies and sources of funding that have finally filled out the budget in full.
Leonardo DRS’s involvement in particular helped to cast an economic development narrative to the applications that were ultimately successful.
Drivers itching to use the overpass will need patience, however. Gibson said the project is 3 to 4 years away from becoming a reality.
“We are starting now to develop timelines,” she said. “Everyone’s worked on it for so long that to be at this point is really exciting”