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Aldermen squabble over Church Street grant request

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A long-shot application that could bring Evanston nearly $12 million in federal funds to rebuild Church Street with a protected bike lane was held up Monday amid worries about debt and spending priorities.

A long-shot application that could bring Evanston nearly $12 million in federal funds to rebuild Church Street with a protected bike lane was held up Monday amid worries about debt and spending priorities.

The grant application calls for rebuilding the roadway, upgrading sidewalks and other pedestrian amentites and adding a protected bike lane similar to one Chicago recently built on Kinzie Street.

The Church Street bike lane, planned in collaboration with Skokie officials, is designed to provide a safe east-west route for cyclists all the way from Evanston's lakefront to the north-south trail that runs through Harms Woods.

Aldermen Colleen Burrus, 9th Ward, and Don Wilson, 4th Ward, questioned whether the city could afford to take on the roughly $4.6 million in local matching spending that would be required if the grant was approved.

Wilson, an avid cyclist, said that anyone who rides a bike around town notices that a lot of the roads are in deplorable condition. But he said he favors a pay-as-you-go approach that wouldn't commit the city to taking on new debt.

Burrus called the proposal irresponsible, said it would force a reordering of street-paving priorities and claimed the the project hadn't been part of the city's long-term planning.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, whose 5th Ward includes part of Church Street, said the plan was not new — that a similar grant application had been submitted for it last year.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose 2nd ward also includes parts of Church Street, said the West Evanston plan, which was the inspiration for the grant proposal, has been in place since 2007 and calls for a project like the one proposed.

City officials said some of the local matching money was already available from tax increment financing districts that cover portions of the route, but they conceded that some of the funds would either have to be taken from other projects or added to the city's long-term debt.

It was unclear from the debate Monday whether any other road project might have any better chance at this time of gaining outside financial support covering more than 70 percent of its cost.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted that of hundreds of applications for the federal TIGER III grants last year, only two projects in Illinois were funded.

But Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said staff noticed that multi-jurisdiction proposals seemed to fare well in last year's grant process, and she said she believes making the new application in concert with Skokie this year should improve the application's chances.

Facing an end-of-month deadline for submitting the grant application, the aldermen voted to defer action on the proposal until their meeting next Monday.

Top: Cyclists ride on the new protected bike lane on Kinzie Street in Chicago. (Photo courtesy Chicago Department of Transportation)

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