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DeKalb takes another shot at federal TIGER grant for transit hub*

DeKALB — The city is once again applying for a federal grant to help pay for a new Voluntary Action Center transporation facility, hoping to secure the $18 million needed for the project the fourth time around.

“Each time, we try to update to really show how it’s (the facility) going to improve the quality of life in the DeKalb region,” said Brian Dickson, transportation planner for the city of DeKalb.

Dickson’s office submitted a voluminous application Friday to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) seeking money from the highly competitive Transporation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The money would go toward the DeKalb County Multimodal Transportation Facility, which will give VAC room to store and maintain its bus fleet and provide more office space for the nonprofit agency.

Dickson said the city has applied for this grant for this project each year since 2013.

“It’s not that we’re really doing anything wrong,” he said. “It’s just that there is so much need out there and so many people applying for grants.”

The city will also apply for a Federal Transportation Administration grant for the same amount — and for this same project, Dickson explained. If DeKalb is awarded both grants, Dickson said the city would have to pick one.

The total TIGER grant pot is $500 million, which goes to fund capital projects “that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region,” according to information on the U.S. DOT website about the program.

The city doesn’t expect to know before the fall if was awarded either grant, said Dickson.

Although VAC’s headquarters are in Sycamore, DeKalb applied for the TIGER grant because it is the only municipality in the county authorized to receive federal and state funding for public transit, Dickson explained. His office, within the department of public works, is overseeing this grant application.

The project calls for building an 83,500-square-foot facility along Barber Green Road near Peace Road in DeKalb, according to information in the grant application. The new hub, which would be more than five times larger than the current 16,000-square-foot one, would house all of VAC’s public transportation programming, including office space and dispatch. There would also be garages for vehicle storarge, washing, fueling and inspection, as well as a park-and-ride area.

The total cost for the facility is projected to be about $19.8 million, of which the grant would cover $18 million. The city plans to get the remaining $1.8 million through other grants, approximately $920,000 worth of land and cash contributions from the county, $25,000 from Sycamore Township and other sources, according to the grant application.

VAC Executive Director Ellen Rogers said that the agency has more than outgrown its current space. All of its programs are squeezed into the current facilty. There’s no room for all of the vehicles to be stored in the garages overnight. And workers are packed, in some cases, five to a tiny office.

“Right now we can’t grow, and there is a need for growth,” said Rogers.

VAC operates two bus lines that run throughout DeKalb and Sycamore, and also services Kishwaukee College in Malta. According to information in the grant application, these routes account for two-thirds of ridership.

Additionally, the agency provides door-service (paratransit) bus transportation to seniors and disabled residents, and offers rides to medical-related appointments.

The entire fleet of 41 buses provides 220,000 rides annually, according to information in the grant request.

The organization also runs Meals on Wheels for seniors, meal prep for some local day care centers and the county jail, and a catering service.

Rogers expects that the new transporation facility will also help VAC enhance services for residents to have greater access to things such as employment sites.

“With the expansion of Target and 3M, there’s a real need for employment transportation to that area,” she said.

*Daily Chronicle, written by Rhonda Gillespie