HOLLAND — The director of the Michigan Department of Transportation encouraged Holland-area communities to lean on MDOT's resources to help them apply for federal infrastructure grants in a visit to the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council.
Paul Ajegba, the agency's director, met with MACC members Wednesday at Holland City Hall to learn about the Holland area's growth, project priorities and concerns on the invitation of the MACC.
Ajegba took the opportunity to offer city and township leaders the agency's help in applying for funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a $973 billion investment in the United States' transportation networks, water, energy, public lands and broadband. The IIJA makes money available for local counties, cities and townships through a number of competitive grant programs.
MDOT will soon have $25 million to offer technical assistance and matching funds to local communities that need help applying for the IIJA funds, Ajegba said. The IIJA assistance program through MDOT is included in the state budget deal for Fiscal Year 2023, reached Friday.
"This is such a timely meeting because we just decided yesterday that we're going to fan out and start meeting with MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations) across the state about the advantages of this IIJA money," Ajegba said.
The director told community leaders to submit project ideas that MDOT can help with. The technical assistance MDOT can offer includes grant writing and technical assistance on the engineering and design of the project, plus back-end help with administering the grant after it is awarded and financial grants for the match dollars.
Michigan is trying to make sure it gets its share of the money, he said.
"A lot of other states are trying to do the same thing, and if we are not proactive and aggressive enough to go after this money, it's all going to go to other states," Ajegba said. "Please help us to help you. The only way we can be successful is if we try."
The MACC members, representing seven townships surrounding Holland and the cities of Holland and Zeeland, introduced their communities and discussed the rapid growth Allegan and Ottawa counties continue to experience, in both population and business investment, encouraging MDOT to continue investing in the area. Allegan and Ottawa counties were two of the four fastest growing counties in Michigan from 2010 to 2020.
City manager Keith Van Beek thanked MDOT for the ongoing construction work on M-40 at I-196, which he noted is a crucial transportation corridor for Holland, not only for commuting workers but the expansion of LG Energy Solution and the Perrigo distribution center located nearby.
"Thank you for the investments that you are making in this community," Van Beek said. "We feel strongly that we are the growth of the region and the state, in a lot of ways, and we need that state investment to be able to support that."
In a roundtable discussion following Ajegba's offer of assistance, Linda Howell, supervisor of Laketown Township, said she has long been interested in pedestrian and bike crossings over Blue Star Highway, a project she suggested could be put forth for a federal infrastructure grant with the help of MDOT. Howell said she would be taking the idea to the rest of her township board.
"It brings another amenity and it opens up a whole other chunk of property for potential housing development and things like that because it's now connected and we can get those folks across the highway," Howell said. "There are a couple of those spots."
Brett Laughlin, managing director of the Ottawa County Road Commission, nudged MDOT to continue the planning work on the extension of the M-231 bypass of U.S. 31 south to Zeeland.
"The theme today was preservation, preserving the network we have, but you also have to look at growth, which was another theme today," Laughlin said. "There is a project that has been planned for many years, and that's the continuation of the bypass of M-231. Zeeland Township is one of the biggest growing communities in our area and that was where 231 was possibly going to have an interchange, so I would just encourage you to continue with that thought process and planning."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: MDOT director urges Holland leaders to apply for federal funds