The TIP money is running low

City planners ask council for financial flexibility to complete road projects

The city’s annual update to the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) highlights new projects and success in winning grants. It also showed the increase in grants is using up money available to transportation staff.

Cities are mandated to have a multi-year planning tool that projects six years ahead for its transportation networks. Each year, Renton updates its TIP by adding new projects, re-prioritizing the list of projects and updating with what progress has been made.

This planning tool also helps the city go out and win grants for the transportation projects listed in the plan.

“Adding a project in the TIP is the first step to putting the wheels in motion,” said Vangie Garcia, city transportation planning and programming manager, at the Aug. 19 public hearing for the 2020-2025 TIP.

Matching vs. Maintenance

Right now the city has about 20 grants for major transportation projects.

Some of those projects are at risk as the staff struggles to balance the local funds available to them for the remainder of the budget cycle.

The problem is the 10 – 20 percent funding match required from these grants, which is something that Public Works Administrator Gregg Zimmerman said they are hoping to resolve in the mid-biennial budget adjustments at the end of this year. Not matching the grants in a certain time frame means they could be taken away.

Zimmerman said the large grants, some of which are in the millions, will be made to work. The ones staff are concerned about are small projects, like traffic signal improvements. An example of a larger issue they’re dealing with is increasing costs of the Wells and Williams two-way conversion project, which is slated to begin construction. Zimmerman said the city will need to ask for more local funds for that.

At the Aug. 19 Transportation Committee meeting, several staff members expressed concerns to councilmembers about how dwindling funds are creating a concern about being able to match grants in the near future. Mentioned to be at risk was a proposed sidewalk study and infrastructure maintenance.

Zimmerman said it’s a balancing act between putting money into matching grants and doing regular upkeep.

“If you put more money into matching grants, you have less to preserve your streets, and vice versa,” he said.

This year they’ve mostly put funds towards matching grants for the bigger projects, he said. Zimmerman thinks they will need to focus more on funding maintenance in the upcoming years. He said it’s important that they continue to work on street preservation and improvements, while also trying to meet grant matches.

Zimmerman said the comments from staff were related to the challenge in matching grants, but that the department has another financial concern: being understaffed for the amount of work required with each project.

While transportation has been successful in receiving grants, Garcia said at the public hearing that it’s getting more competitive. There’s been more expensive and time-intensive requirements that must be completed as well, like documenting how most of the steel used in a project is American-made.

These issues are common, but with all the grants the city recently won its become a bigger challenge. Zimmerman hopes the council considers the financial aspects of the major projects included in the TIP during the mid-biennial budget adjustments.

“I hope this year’s TIP will be a good reference for you to use during next year’s council retreat and budget discussions,” Garcia said at the public hearing to councilmembers.

What’s new

This year the city received new grant funding from national and state programs for highways and safety. Several grant awards from Washington State Department of Transportation also triggered two new projects to be added to the list: adding sidewalk and driveway improvements on Houser Way and improving pedestrian walkways at Renton schools.

Other new projects included a pedestrian path to Southport and creation of a Walkway Master Plan.

One item was added after the Aug. 5 draft of the TIP, No. 52., which was added because it was just approved by state transportation funding. This project creates signage and greenery at the new Northeast 44th Street interchange, as part of the I-405 Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project.

The city anticipates the following projects to begin construction:

•Sidewalk and road improvements to Duvall Avenue Northeast.

•Phase three of the Lake Washington Loop Trail, adding 1.3 miles of pedestrian/bicycle path south of the airport and along Airport Way, connecting the Lake Washington trail system.

•The conversion of one way to two way streets for Williams Avenue South and Wells Avenue South.

•Remodeling the Houser Way intersection and adding walking improvements, which will be constructed at the same time as the two-way street conversions.

•Extending Park Avenue North, in conjunction with the new project that connects pedestrians to Southport underneath the Burlington Northern trestle.

•Adding crosswalks to Renton elementary and middle schools.

Twenty-one projects are for roadway corridors, 10 are for non-motorized transportation, nine projects are for maintenance and preservation of roads and streets, and eight projects are for traffic operations and safety and four projects are planning efforts or arts.

The draft TIP presented at the Transportation Committee is available here.

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