City of Fort Smith still looking for funding help with Towson Avenue work

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 658 views 

Though the U.S. Department of Defense denied Fort Smith’s pre-application for a $20 million grant to fund water line work along four miles of Towson Avenue, the city will continue to look for other funding opportunities.

The city’s pre-application for the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP) grant that was to provide funding for a redundant water supply to the 188th and provide funds for Towson Avenue was denied, City Administrator Carl Geffken said. The application sent by the city on June 23 was a request to be allowed by the DOD to submit a formal application for the grant funds.

Grant funds the city was hoping to get would come from the DCIP, which is “designed to address deficiencies in community infrastructure, supportive of a military installation, in order to enhance military value, installation resilience, and military family quality of life.” The program provides funds for a wide range of civilian infrastructure that is located off a military installation but supports a military installation.

The city was seeking to apply for the grant in order to complete work that will provide a stable water supply for Ebbing Air National Guard Base. Ebbing, home to the 188th Wing of the U.S. Air Force, is located adjacent to the Fort Smith Regional Airport. The base was selected in March by the U.S. Air Force to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland, Poland, Germany, Finland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Initial estimates are that 1,500 military personnel and family members will be associated with the new center once it is fully operational.

U.S. Air Force officials have said the earliest planes and pilots from foreign nations could arrive at Ebbing would be in late 2024, part of the military’s fiscal year 2025 beginning in September 2024. The full complement of 12 F-16s and 24 F-35s from various nations could arrive in fiscal year 2026 at the earliest.

According to the city’s application for the funds, the city’s existing water system will not provide the redundant capabilities needed for an expanded operation at Ebbing and additional housing and other developments expected to result from the new pilot training center. Fort Smith Utilities Director Lance McAvoy has estimated the cost to relocate and replace water lines along about four miles of the Towson Avenue rebuild will cost $24.03 million. The DCIP program limits requests to $20 million.

“The area of work to provide that water would occur under part of Towson Ave. In this way, we would have been able to provide a redundant water supply to the 188th and fund part of the repairs to Towson Ave,” Geffken said.

He said the city will continue to look and apply for grants and directed spending.

“There are many different grants and funding streams that provide assistance for projects such as these,” Geffken said.

The funding the city was looking to secure for Towson Avenue would replace and upgrade water and sewer pipes adjacent to and below Towson Avenue before the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s project to repave Towson Avenue and install sidewalks, curbs and gutters began. The city requested a postponement of the Towson Ave project while it tried to find the funds to perform the work, but since the DCIP pre-application grant was denied, it has communicated to ARDOT that the Towson Avenue project should move forward.

“The City will work to secure the necessary funding in the future and repave the parts of Towson where we need to perform work underneath it,” Geffken said.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a resolution in October 2019 that will make part of Towson Avenue a city street. The resolution provides for a partnership between the city and ARDOT, which maintains Towson Avenue as a state highway. The project will rehabilitate four miles of Towson Avenue (Highway 71B) between Garrison Avenue (Highway 64) and Zero Street (Highway 255).

According to information given at the time the resolution was passed, the project will include “upgrading the drainage system to current standards, replacement of the curb/guttering and driveway approaches, installation of sidewalks and pavement improvements to the street surface.”

The project is expected to cost about $12.5 million, of which the state will pay all but 16% of the costs – up to a maximum amount of $2 million – which will be paid by the city. Once the project is completed, the state will hand over that section of Towson Avenue to the city.