’Transformational’ project would make increasingly residential downtown Rockford more bicycle and pedestrian friendly

ROCKFORD — City officials plan to reapply for a $25 million federal grant that would make the increasingly residential downtown more pedestrian, bicycle and environmentally friendly.

City Administrator Todd Cagnoni said the city plans to try for a second time to secure a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant to pay for a $31 million first phase of the project.

“This is a transformational project in our downtown,” Cagnoni said. “It takes two streets with predominately vehicle traffic on them and turns them into a complete streets.”

It would place four-lane, one-way Jefferson and Chestnut streets on a “road diet,” reducing them to two traffic lanes plus a turn lane in an effort to calm and slow traffic. It would capture space from the road diet to add protected pedestrian and bicycle amenities.

It would also help the Rockford Mass Transit District buy three new all-electric buses and create a downtown “circulator route” with stops every 15 minutes.

The changes would come as more downtown office buildings each year are being transformed into residential apartment buildings, officials said.

It is also meant to improve safety, a point the previous application failed to drive home, City Engineer Jeremy Carter said.

The city’s application last year was one of 666 submitted for a share of $9.6 billion in grants. Just 207 were chosen as finalists (Rockford’s application was not among them) and 55 of them won an award.

Grants averaged about $16 million and ranged from $2.3 million to $25 million, Carter said.

Feedback the city got from the Federal Highway Administration was that the city would benefit from having the Illinois Department of Transportation sponsor the project, and needed to make a far stronger case as to how the project would improve safety, Carter said.

“We’re taking a deep dive into the crash data,” Carter said.

Jeff Kolkey: jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey