Berlin, a small city in New Hampshire's rural North Country, has a problem.
Each winter, 7 ft. of snow buries the town's streets and sidewalks, making them hazardous for tourists and residents trying to make their way downtown. Pedestrians fall and cars crash as a result. In addition, the costly process of plowing, dumping, salting and sanding leaves a mess.
"After all this effort, streets and sidewalks are rarely free from snow and ice," city officials told the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in a recent grant application. And once spring comes, "on windy days, remnant dust fills the downtown air."
On Aug. 10, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that Berlin's idea for solving these problems — a snowmelt system that will pump excess heat from a nearby biomass power plant through condensed water pipes under downtown roads and sidewalks — is one of 166 projects to receive funding under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, the Washington Post reported Aug. 11
RAISE is a popular but oversubscribed program that itself is receiving an infusion of $7.5 billion over five years under 2021's infrastructure law.
"Learning about these projects and providing the funding to help make more of them a reality is one of the best parts of serving in this role," Buttigieg said ahead of the announcement, which covered $2.2 billion for projects in every state — half in rural areas and half in urban areas.
Funding is Key to U.S. Infrastructure Upgrades
Buttigieg and Mitch Landrieu, President Biden's senior infrastructure adviser, have been traveling to key states recently to herald the grants and the progress they said they represent.
The Post noted that Buttigieg also joined local and congressional officials in Tucson, Ariz., to announce a $25 million grant to uncork freight and pedestrian bottlenecks in that city's 22nd Street area. The funding will support a new bridge over a railroad, a separate span for bicyclists and those on foot, and an expanded roadway, which transportation officials said will improve connections with an underserved area.
In addition, Landrieu was in Atlanta to reveal a $25 million grant to fix the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority's (MARTA) Five Points station.
The goal of the work in the Georgia capital, according to project documents, is to rebuild a confusing station by eliminating "long walks to bus transfers in areas that are not adequately monitored," and to improve safety by helping people avoid crossing streets.
The station, where more than half of those living within half a mile are poor, links downtown with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a major job source.
"We're not leaving anybody behind," Landrieu said.
Lawmakers From Both Sides of Aisle on Board
The Post added that Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), also were touting the grants, including one in his state that awarded $20 million to a long-awaited project to link the city of Huntsville with neighborhoods isolated by highways and waterways.
According to project documents obtained by the Post, the planned construction includes a cable-suspended pedestrian bridge, three pedestrian bridges over Pinhook Creek and Huntsville Spring Branch, and a new railroad bridge. Among the goals, federal transportation officials said, are mitigating floods, cutting emissions and improving access to disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"I am particularly pleased that Huntsville has been awarded the funds to construct multiple pedestrian bridges that will soon provide greater access to businesses and vital services located downtown," Shelby said in a statement.
A separate $5 million grant for Cordova, Ala., will fix 30 mi. of roads, including those damaged by powerful tornadoes in 2011.
Christopher Coes, the assistant U.S. secretary for transportation policy, told the Washington newspaper that 52 percent of funding announced is going toward roadway improvements, while adding that a substantial number of those included elements of Complete Streets, an effort pushed by the federal agency to make roadways safer and more inviting for pedestrians. About 7 percent of the funding backed maritime projects, he added, while 4 percent went to rail.
Buttigieg said categorization can be tricky, though, given that road projects can be paired with other improvements, but about 17 percent of projects that received funding included bike and pedestrian elements.
Big Grant for Small City
The Berlin, N.H., project will use wasted heat at a wood-burning power plant to dispense with snow, while trying to transform a community hit hard by the decline of the paper industry, the Post reported. The Burgess Biopower plant replaced part of a former pulp mill in the city.
"This is a game changer for Berlin," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement from her office.
Buttigieg, who had visited Berlin a couple of years ago to open a campaign office during his run for president, said the $19.5 million going to the project will have a lasting effect, even if the dollar amount might not seem significant by the standards of some major U.S. cities.
"What they're going to be able to do there, with this funding, [is] really transforms the future of their town center," he explained.
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