U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), members of the Ann Arbor City Council and several city employees made the first crack in the demolition of the East Stadium Boulevard bridges yesterday.

A groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of a construction project that will rebuild the diminishing bridges south of Michigan Stadium. City and county officials also announced a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve transportation throughout Washtenaw County.

Funding for the East Stadium Bridges Improvement Project, which will begin Nov. 28, will come from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Michigan Department of Transportation and the city of Ann Arbor’s 2006 Street Reconstruction Millage.

Dingell told a crowd under the bridge that obtaining funding for the project was a collaborative effort between city, state and federal officials.

“It wasn’t one of us that did it,” Dingell said. “We did it, all of us working together.”

Dingell pointed out that the deteriorating bridges posed a serious public safety risk and said he personally tries to avoid traveling on the structure. He added that it is important that damaged bridges around the country are fixed because they facilitate regional commerce.

“We are allowing the whole of our infrastructure to quite frankly get in serious danger,” Dingell said.

While some members of Congress have argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has not boosted the nation’s economy, Dingell said the money it provided to the East Stadium Bridges Improvement Project will be essential to improve the economy of the area. The project is estimated to add 448 jobs, according to Dingell.

“The ARRA and the recovery legislation has worked,” Dingell said in an interview after the ceremony. “And it’s going to do more to see to it that we have jobs and opportunity.”

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said he is pleased the bridge improvements will include extra width for sidewalks and bike paths. Those components will be important when the 2012 college football season begins, he said.

Steudle echoed Dingell’s remarks and said bridges and highways make up the “backbone” of the Michigan and U.S. economies.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said several bridges throughout the country have been shut down because there was not sufficient funding for repairs, and the city has been fortunate to receive funding to repair its structures.

In an interview after the ceremony, Hieftje said 48,000 vehicles travel over the Stadium Bridges every day. Though some question the bridges’ safety, Hieftje said engineers inspect it weekly.

“We are sure it’s in good condition, but it’s certainly time to bring it down,” Hieftje said.

HUD announces funding for county

At an event at the Washtenaw County Service Center on Washtenaw Ave. yesterday afternoon, administrators from Washtenaw County and HUD announced a $3 million grant for Washtenaw County as part of HUD’s Community Challenge Grant program.

The Community Challenge Grant supports regional development plans that aim to improve economic vitality while keeping sustainability in mind.

In an interview after the event, HUD Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio Riley said the Obama administration has had more success than other administrations in connecting sustainability and housing development.

HUD’s newly formed Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities — a collaboration between HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency — was designed to seek out areas like Washtenaw County that are working to strengthen regional commerce through environmentally friendly ways, Riley said.

He added that the grant is significant for University students because college towns are important “economic engines.” Riley said students will be heavily impacted by the project considering their housing and transportation needs, and the University had a role in the project.

Speaking on behalf of Hieftje, who was scheduled to speak at the event but was unable to attend, City Council member Tony Derezinski (D–Ward 2) said the project will help Ann Arbor “re-imagine Washtenaw Avenue” — a major residential and commercial thoroughfare that runs through much of the city.

Derezinski added that the grant will be particularly helpful to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, as residents have complained about the lack of stops and operating hours of buses along Washtenaw Avenue. AATA has already proposed changes to Route 4 along the road.

In an interview after the event, Derezinski said the grant secures future development strategies the city is hoping to initiate.

“This is the planning grant we needed to make sure the plans were in place,” Derezinski said.

Ann Arbor’s ability to work with other municipalities like the city of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township allows multiple cities to reap the benefits of federal dollars and strengthen much of the county, Derezinski said.

“We’re darn good, but we could be even better,” he said.

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