TIGER grant celebrated

BROWNSVILLE — A week after announcing it had won a $10 million TIGER grant from the federal government, the city of Brownsville held a public ceremony heralding the award yesterday in front of City Hall and a throng of onlookers.

Elected officials and representatives of the various entities that worked together to secure the grant took turns at the microphone, with Brownsville City Manager Charlie Cabler serving as emcee.

TIGER is an acronym for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery,” a U.S. Department of Transportation program that gives out grants for improving or developing roads, transit, freight rail, pedestrian/bicycle and maritime infrastructure.

The $10 million grant will go toward a $23.8 million “Connecting Communities” project aimed at improving public transit in Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley and creating a pedestrian/bicycle path along the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway.

Brownsville Metro, the city’s public transit system, will receive a rehabilitated operations and maintenance facility, upgraded bus stop facilities and a new transit hub on the east side. Metro Connect, which connects the upper and lower parts of the Valley, will get eight new hybrid buses.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said the new transit station and other improvements would empower residents by making it easier for them to get around. Winning the TIGER grant, meanwhile, couldn’t have happened without teamwork among a number of stakeholders, he said.

Brownsville City Commissioner Rose Gowen echoed the sentiment, calling the successful grant application a “stunning accomplishment” that required a great deal of time, effort and meetings.

The city of Brownsville leads Connecting Communities in partnership with the cities of McAllen , Port Isabel and South Padre Island, Cameron County and the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The city’s grant management and community development office wrote the grant with help from Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Brownsville Metro.

Gowen said the causeway hike and bike trail will be the “sweetest component” of the Cameron County in Motion: Active Transport Master Plan — Active Plan for short — created with a $100,000 grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to link Valley communities through a regional network of pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

South Padre Island Mayor Barry Patel said Connecting Communities ties in well with the Island ‘s plan to make substantial investments in pedestrian/bicycle lanes to create more hike-and-bike-friendly streets.

“It will make the whole picture complete,” he said.

Laura Gomez Rodríguez , Brownsville’s “team lead” for the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (one of many entities that provided letters of support for Brownsville’s TIGER application), said regional collaboration among communities is just what the federal government looks for in deciding where to target grant money.

“Each city’s very unique and they all have their strengths and their weaknesses, but by working together they fill in the gaps,” she said. “Then they get to be one of these big, powerful (Metropolitan Statistical Areas).

“I think it’s a great example. I think it’s a first step for this community to do something regionally. By coming together they can really leverage opportunities for everyone in this region, which is desperately needed.”