This article was originally published in IL-ASCE’s TD&I December newsletter
Written by Brian Umbright, PE, SE
Transforming communities through project readiness
Despite the investment in infrastructure from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Rebuild Illinois (RBI), the competition for project funding will continue to be fierce. There is an exponential need for projects and funding associated with IIJA is through a competitive grant process. To improve project success and advance infrastructure projects throughout communities, various tactics can be employed including project readiness.
With available funding, the argument is, “project readiness” is critical for implementing agencies to understand. Projects that are ready for their next phase or construction will attract funding by the very nature of showing progress and putting money towards projects that are real. As transportation agencies, it is important to be innovative and creative in identifying how early investments can have significant impacts on accelerating project delivery. The Village of Franklin Park is an example of this success and can serve as a model for other agencies.
Franklin Avenue Background
As part of Illinois Tollway’s $3.4B Elgin O’Hare Western Access Corridor, the Illinois Tollway and Village of Franklin Park spent several years coordinating a new interchange between I-490 and Franklin Avenue/Green Street. While the interchange was to have many positive impacts for the Village, limited improvements to Franklin Avenue to the east of the new interchange would be a limiting factor in maximizing benefits and realizing the Village’s goal of significant industrial development in the area. A project sponsor was needed to reconstruct and widen nearly two additional miles of Franklin Avenue to fully realize the Village’s vision and take advantage of the new interchange and the economic benefits of the new I-490 corridor.
Early Coordination is Key
As far back as 2015, Cook County began to promote the idea of providing funding to municipalities to be their own implementers of infrastructure improvements. Through numerous meetings and ongoing coordination, the Village was able to obtain a funding commitment from the County and the West Central Municipal Conference (WCMC). Combined with their own seed capital, they were able to begin a Phase I Study of the needed improvements.
Initially the Phase I Study took several years, but by early 2018 the study phase began although no mechanism to fund the project had been developed. However, starting the Phase I process allowed the Village to submit for Illinois’ first Competitive Freight Grant Funding call. Having the necessary data and stakeholder support from the initial stages of the Phase I study allowed the team to assemble a highly competitive grant application that received the highest score from 24 applicants and was the other project that received 100% of its requested funding. Securing the grant created momentum and very specific deadlines that allowed Phase I approval to be obtained in 15 months.
Opportunistic and Flexible
Obtaining the Illinois Competitive Freight Grant was a game changer for the Village and the Project. However, for projects to be successful they need a “cocktail of funding.” An important lesson to be learned from the Village is that they proactively continued to seek other funding sources for this project as the implementation unfolded. Their continued efforts to be opportunistic resulted in additional funding grants from Cook County – both invest in Cook and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Illinois Tollway, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Illinois Department of Transportation. In addition, due to project readiness, the Village was able to capture additional unused Competitive Freight Grant funding from projects that were not ready.
Every project has twists and turns, and because the Village was flexible, they were able to implement the improvements over time and under multiple construction contracts that took advantage of specific funding streams. This resulted in eased local traffic staging burdens and accommodated the land acquisition process. Using a phased approach instead of all-or-nothing showed readiness and allowed for implementation to proceed
The Village of Franklin Park is on schedule to see the completion of the $35M Franklin Avenue Improvement project by the end of 2024 to coincide with the Illinois Tollway’s new I-490 interchange. These projects will signal the completion of more than a decade of planning efforts. This project will bring economic vitality to the Village and region. It also serves as a great example of how project readiness attracts funding for projects to go from an idea to completion!
Brian Umbright, PE, SE is Vice President of Transportation in EXP’s Chicago office and has been involved in the transportation industry for over 25 years.