Birmingham learned Tuesday that it has landed $10 million in federal grant money to rebuild storm-damaged roads in Pratt City and improve connections in the city and with regional neighbors through work on sidewalks and bike lanes and trails.
The money comes through a fiercely competitive grant program, known as TIGER.
Birmingham's original grant application totaled $23 million, and it is unclear which specific projects will be funded with the approved money. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell's office said more details would come later in the week. But she praised the diverse coalition that came together to support the grant application. Representatives from the nonprofit and corporate sectors, from multiple municipalities and from all levels of government were involved.
"This grant reflects the extraordinary outcomes possible when the public and private sector partners together to transform a community," Sewell, D-Birmingham, said in a news release. "The strength and resilience of Alabamians is a testament to what is truly achievable when communities work together."
The grants, through the U.S. Department of Transportation, are designed to encourage innovation and job creation, and this is the second time a regional proposal along these lines has been submitted.
Freshwater Land Trust Executive Director Wendy Jackson, whose organization helped compile the application, said that, in this round, 703 applications representing $10.2 billion in requests were competing for a $500 million pot. Beating those long odds should be a shot in the arm for the region.
"We so desperately needed a win. I am so proud," she said. "This is the power of collaboration. This shows the power of a plan."
In addition to helping rebuild the Pratt City neighborhood, the grant application proposed the creation of walking and biking corridors between downtown attractions and through adjacent neighborhoods. It also proposed supporting the extension of the Shades Creek Greenway in Homewood, and trail and road connections between the western communities of Fairfield and Midfield to Red Mountain Park.
The proposal has roots in the efforts of a community coalition led by the Jefferson County Department of Public Health to combat obesity and smoking. That effort supported the design of a regional system of walking and biking trails, the Red Rock Ridge and Valley trail system. Pieces of that system were included in the application.
Along with Sewell, a Democrat; U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Spencer Bachus, both Republicans, supported the application.
"This represents visionary thinking, not just because of the ambitious scope of the project but because of the way it has brought so many parties together to work for the common good of all of our citizens," Bachus said in a release.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell also praised the bipartisan effort. "All of our congressional representatives have been very open to us and accommodating and they've opened the door so we can talk to people like (U.S. Transportation) Secretary (Ray) LaHood and the White House," Bell said.
The grant application also was strengthened by pledges of $387,100 in private philanthropic support from donors to the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation and the Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust. UAB and the Jefferson County Department of Health also pledged matching money.
"We see potential for true transformation with this investment," said Kate Nielsen, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.
Jackson added that this is only the beginning.
"This also means we won't quit," she said. "We are going to go back at it again and again."