Plans to build a bus barn in Jackson got a major boost Thursday with an $8 million federal grant.
The funding announcement is welcome news to elected officials and START staff, who have been struggling for years to find enough money to build the new facility.
The grant should allow START to build all that had been planned for phase one of the project, rather than the scaled-down version that transit leaders have discussed in recent weeks.
“This is a very significant shot in the arm,” Jackson Mayor Mark Barron said.
Federal funds will be used to help cover the cost of the construction project’s first phase, which includes building a bus storage area and administrative office space. That portion of the project is supposed to total 47,000 square feet.
The grant money nearly doubles the $9 million START had managed to scrape together.
The cash infusion also comes just a week after contractor bids for phase one came in several million dollars more than expected. The lowest bid of $13.93 million was about $4 million more than the money START had reserved for the project.
Last year, elected officials asked START to design a facility that could be built with the money in hand.
As recently as Tuesday, Teton County commissioners voted to trim the plans to save money, taking out landscaping elements and a connector road from the project. They also wanted to remove nearly 7,000 square feet from the building.
Now, START could have money left over to fund phase two, which includes building maintenance space.
An overarching goal for the new building is to get buses under cover during Jackson Hole’s long winter, which elected officials say will extend the life of the buses.
The funds also will be used to build bicycle and pedestrian improvements along West Broadway and in Karns Meadow that ultimately will connect to the new bus barn.
Town and county leaders argue the bus barn is necessary if Jackson Hole is to expand its transit system, one of the transportation goals laid out in the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.
The announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation comes after several attempts by START to win the same highly competitive grant, which is called Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER. Only 10 percent of the projects that applied received funding.
“It’s proof that persistence pays off,” START Director Michael Wackerly said. “Myself, [Pathways coordinator] Brian Schilling and other staff worked on these applications for 5 years now. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of sweat and tears. I always felt that it was worth the effort, that there was an opportunity.”
News of the grant award surprised some.
“This grant was the fifth application for TIGER funding,” Barron said.
“To be quite frank, I had held little hope for it. Certainly this is a very pleasant surprise for START and the town and county.”
The town and county already were scheduled to discuss the project at a joint meeting Monday. The conversation now will revolve around how the grant money will be spent, Barron said.
“We’re going to have to be very sharp with how we plan and how we invest this money into phase one and phase two,” he said.