If I had to name the top two projects at City Hall that get officials excited, they would be Midtown and filling in the Inner Loop.
The mayor frequently talks about how downtown is designed for a fast exit. He wants you to stick around for a while. The Inner Loop is underutilized, cuts off neighborhoods and is a “noose around the neck of downtown.” Filling in the eastern portion of the Inner Loop would free up about 9 acres of land for development and save the city future maintenance costs.
Senator Chuck Schumer has gone to bat to get the city federal TIGER funds. When Rochester was passed over for a $15 million grant last year, Schumer said he’d help the city improve its application. In February, city council authorized nearly $2 million in design work to bolster the 2012 TIGER funding application.
The TIGER application was due in March. The city never submitted it. Instead it only submitted an application for funding for the $26 million intermodal station. The city says the intermodal station is further along in design and has crucial state support. Besides, the city can’t expect to get two big projects funded in the same round.
Funding is not a sure thing for either project. Putting off the Inner Loop application is a risk construction could be delayed a year or more. It will likely not coincide with the marina dig at the port. The fill from the marina was to be used to fill the Inner Loop.
What’s surprising about this development is the city had not touted the intermodal station much until a couple weeks ago when a design was unveiled. It’s not a project anyone talks about with enthusiasm, not even the mayor. The Trailways bus owner said he doesn’t think the station will be built in his lifetime.
There’s only one person who is a champion of the intermodal station: Louise Slaughter. She has always wanted a true intermodal station, one that combined all of the city’s buses and trains in one spot. Many believe Slaughter pressured Bob Duffy to drop his support of Renaissance Square, which didn’t not align with her vision. Several years later, RGRTA is building its own bus station, anyway.
The city says it didn’t put the intermodal station ahead of the Inner Loop at Slaughter’s urging. A mid-afternoon email to her spokesperson wasn’t immediately returned. It’s possible there’s nothing more to this sudden switcheroo than pure strategy to maximize federal dollars. I suspect that’s not the whole story.
In other news, 90 percent of Chicago teachers authorized a strike. This gives them more leverage at the negotiating table. It’s a rather astounding development, given it’s Jean-Claude Brizard’s first year in Chicago. You may recall, an overwhelming majority of Rochester teachers voted no confidence in his leadership in a union ballot, results backed up by a Center for Governmental Research survey.