Brownsville and partners have been awarded a highly competitive, $10 million federal grant to improve public transit and create a pedestrian/bicycle path along the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge. The TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will go toward a $23.8 million “Connecting Communities” project. TIGER stands for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery,” a DOT program that awards federal money to improve roads, transit, cargo rail, hike-and-bike and maritime infrastructure.
The city of Brownsville’s application was one of 40 accepted out of 585 applicants around the country. The total amount of TIGER grant funding available this year was $500 million, while the program received $9.3 billion in requests, according to DOT.Brownsville was the only community in Texas to receive a TIGER grant this year, the eighth year of the program.
The Connecting Communities project has two main components, the first of which involves improvements to Brownsville Metro, the city’s bus system, and METRO Connect, which links the upper and lower Rio Grande Valley. The second component of Connecting Communities involves widening the 2.4-mile-long Queen Isabella causeway by four feet, which will allow for a 14-foot dedicated, barrier-protected bike and pedestrian lane. It will be one of the longest bridge hike-and-bike facilities in the United States and the first of its kind in Texas, according to the DOT. Marina Zolezzi, the city’s director of Grant Management and Community Development, said construction on the causeway must begin by September 2019 and be complete by 2024.
Her office wrote the Connecting Communities TIGER application with Brownsville Metro and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, in collaboration with application partners the city of McAllen, the city of Port Isabel, the city of South Padre Island, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, Cameron County and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Zolezzi said the team was overjoyed to hear the application had been accepted. “We were shocked and excited,” she said. “This is definitely going to transform infrastructure in the community and increase the ladders of opportunity and quality of life. This is the product of team collaboration, a lot of partnerships, everyone coming together.”
The city of Brownsville has committed $4.2 million and various local partners have committed $6.9 million to help pay for the work, Zolezzi said. Meanwhile, she thinks the $10 million in TIGER funds may be a first for the city.
“To our knowledge, we believe it’s the biggest grant that the city has received,” Zolezzi said.
Brownsville City Commissioner Rose M.Z. Gowen described the award as a “stunning accomplishment” because of what it will mean for Brownsville Metro, but also because it will result in an “unprecedented bicycle and pedestrian protected connection between Port Isabel and South Padre Island .” “It was a pleasure to work with our partners on this one-of-a-kind initiative,” she said.

-By STEVE CLARK Staff Writer