Burlington is the winner of a nationally competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant totaling $17 million.

The city will use flood wall and sewer separation work as the bulk of the grant's required local match. Burlington will need to fork over minimal additional funds, according to City Planner Charlie Nichols, who oversaw the application process. The exact amount needed in addition isn't yet clear.

The grant will fund a massive re-imagining of Burlington's riverfront, as well as a substantial upgrade to Jefferson and Main streets.

"This was us taking a half-court shot blindfolded and making it," Nichols said of securing the highly sought-after grant. "It is an unbelievably good deal for downtown Burlington."

On the riverfront, the TIGER grant will fund large boat docks spanning the city's flood wall. Trees, planters, seating, parking lot improvements and green spaces are all included. A splash pad, previously considered and rejected by the City Council, isn't in the application.

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Jefferson and Main streets will receive funds for bike racks, resurfacing, sidewalk expansion, planters, storm improvements, new street lights and trees. Jefferson Street in particular should become dramatically more walkable and full of greenery, according to the specifics of the grant application.

"Now we have to figure out how to portion out $17 million, which is a very good problem to have," Nichols said.

Upon hearing the news, Mayor Shane McCampbell said "$17 million. That is a big number. I'm so glad our community was able to get a piece of that $500 million."

The TIGER grant program is open to cities nationwide and is highly competitive. This year the U.S. Department of Transportation has $500 million to give out.

"I don't know who can be mad about the city getting this money," McCampbell said.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat representing Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the grant award for Burlington.

In October, Loebsack wrote a letter in support of the grant application to the DOT.

"I have been told that this grant will help the city to enhance the downtown to riverfront connections, enhance the connections from the downtown/riverfront to the Amtrak train depot and enhance the connection for the river cruise lines/boats to/from the Mississippi River," Loebsack wrote.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley also wrote a letter supporting the application.

"I have contacted Secretary Foxx of the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding the TIGER application being submitted by the city of Burlington for the downtown/riverfront revitalization project," Grassley wrote.

Various Burlington business leaders also wrote letters.

The docks to be built will be for use by the public and by river cruise lines. They're part of conceptual plans the city previously had drafted to visualize how the riverfront might be remade after flood wall construction is complete.

Main and Jefferson streets are to be converted to "complete streets," an initiative that aims to remake streets for better use by pedestrians, bicycles and cars. Jefferson Street may see widened sidewalks with lines of trees, Nichols said.

The exact designs of everything to be included is still totally up in the air, as far as specifics go. The grant includes money that can be used to cover engineering and design costs.

City staff are unsure of when Burlington will actually get the money. Staff first heard of the award midday Tuesday.

Steve Frevert, executive director of Downtown Partners Inc. in Burlington, was happily surprised by the news Tuesday afternoon.

"It's going to be a whole new downtown," Frevert said. "And I don't think this is the end of it."

Zach James, planning director for Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, said the grant process is "extremely competitive."

Since 2009, seven Iowa cities have won the grant, James said. Nationwide, only 5.6 percent of projects get funded.