Illinois officials say an “extensive” improvement is needed along state Route 9 in Bloomington. Now a project to replace the road surface, curbs and gutters and add sidewalks, bike lanes and ADA improvements along a 6-mile stretch of the highway in the city in central Illinois is set to receive $52.9 million from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

“This significant investment not only enhances our infrastructure, but also paves the way for safer, more efficient travel for our residents,” said Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe in a statement.

The money is part of $645.3 million being awarded to 18 projects through DOT’s Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program. The program, funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, has about $2 billion to provide to projects improving highways, bridges and tunnels in rural areas through 2026. This is the second round of awards from the grant program; the first round included $273.9 million for 12 projects.

The largest grant award of the round is $70.4 million for the Utah Dept. of Transportation’s Interstate 15 South Iron County Freight, Mobility and Safety Project. The plan calls for construction of a northbound climbing lane on the highway plus improvements to an interchange near Cedar City. Officials say the project will address safety issues along a 16-mile uphill grade. 

According to DOT, rural roads see a disproportionately high rate of deaths, and many rural roads and bridges are in poor condition. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement that rural communities “are often left out of major federal investments,” but that would change with programs like this. The money will help “make transportation in rural communities better, safer and more reliable,” he added. 

Still, the demand for funding for rural transportation projects appears to go beyond what the program has available. DOT says it received more than $7.4 billion in requests from 174 applicants for the $645 million available in this funding round.