MANCHESTER — In response to concerns over possible increases in traffic on South Commercial Street when a Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) parking garage is expected to open this summer, city aldermen voted Tuesday to apply for federal grant funds for a possible second egress for the area.
Mayor Joyce Craig brought up the opportunity for the city to apply for a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grant, under the “new business” portion of Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.
“While the garage developer, SNHU and the Department of Public Works will all be completing mitigation efforts to help improve the flow of traffic, it is essential to find a second egress out of South Commercial Street,” Craig told aldermen on Tuesday.
“Based on the geography of the area, the challenges that crossing a rail line entail, and the lack of city-owned property in the area, there is no quick or inexpensive solution for a second egress. Each option that we have explored will require a significant expense to construct.”
SNHU plans to offer public parking at its new Millyard garage during off-business hours and will phase in using the garage to monitor any travel tie-ups. A traffic study submitted by the developer in 2017 said some intersections along Granite Street could be filled beyond their capacity by 2030 and suggested “the city may also wish to explore the feasibility of obtaining a future secondary access to Elm Street from South Commercial Street via a new railroad crossing.”
The 1,700-space garage next to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium will be used by university employees working at the Millyard, said Lauren Keane, assistant vice president of communications for SNHU, in an email.
Developer Peter Flotz has said he plans to turn the garage over to SNHU, completed, by July 1.
Within the last week, Craig said, city staff identified a federal grant opportunity that would not only assist with funding a second egress out of the area, but that would also improve transportation and increase economic development options along the South Elm corridor.
Federal BUILD grants, formerly called TIGER grants, are awarded on a competitive basis to municipalities and states for significant transportation projects. The awards can be up to $25 million, with an 80/20 federal/local split, though they can potentially be 100 percent federally funded for communities like Manchester.
“After consulting with city staff, we feel that there is a significant opportunity for the city through this grant to not only find a solution to the South Commercial Street egress challenge, but improve and further develop the South Elm Street corridor for potentially the same cost as a small scale fix to the egress challenge,” said Craig.
Last month, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao announced that the DOT has rolled out a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to apply for $900 million in discretionary grant funding through the BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grants program.
Funding for this $900 million in BUILD grants is made available through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019. The maximum grant award is $25 million with no more than $90 million that can be awarded to a single state. The DOT said the deadline to submit a FY 2019 BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grant application is July 15, less than 10 weeks away.
Craig said because BUILD grants are very competitive, the city plans to hire a consultant to assist in completing the grant application in time.
According to Craig, public works officials identified CLD/Fuss & O’Neill as an engineering firm “with both the experience in securing these grants for other communities and the local knowledge of Manchester” to complete an application before the deadline at an estimated cost of $100,000.
Craig said Flotz has offered to pay $50,000 of the cost to complete the application.
Aldermen voted in favor of accepting the offer of $50,000 from Flotz, and waiving the formal procurement ordinance requirements in order for Public Works to enter into a contract with CLD/Fuss & O’Neill for its assistance in completing the BUILD grant application prior to the July 15 deadline.
“These actions (will) allow city staff and CLD/Fuss & O’Neill to begin work on the application as soon as possible while we work to identify a funding source for the remainder of the contract with the engineering firm over the next few weeks,” Craig told aldermen.