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Austin out of the money as Columbus, Ohio, wins Smart City grant

Austin’s Year of Mobility won’t be getting a $40 million assist from the feds.

Columbus, Ohio, edged out Austin and five other finalists for the Smart City Challenge grant, the Columbus Dispatch and other media reported Tuesday. The office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, issued a statement Tuesday confirming that the home team had won.

Federal officials are expected to make the official announcement Thursday during a visit to Columbus, the newspaper reported. Columbus’ pitch for the grant might have been boosted by what the city said was a pledge of $90 million in local matching money, including $19 million in public funds.

While the U.S. Department of Transportation has not confirmed the winner, it issued a statement midday Tuesday emphasizing that all seven finalists — not just the winning city — will get the support of the agency and tech industry leaders to “move forward with ideas that each city developed over the past six months.”

Vulcan Inc., a company founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, pledged up to another $10 million to help the winning city convert some of its fleet to electric vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that Vulcan “will lead the effort to bring in other philanthropists to provide additional funding to support the climate and electrification efforts of all seven cities, and beyond.”

The agency said other federal departments, such as the U.S. Department of Energy, would collaborate with all seven cities to assist with modeling and planning efforts to improve transportation networks. The release said the federal government will “focus resources” on the runner-up cities but did not specifically promise funding.

The other finalists were Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.

Mayor Steve Adler, who had spent considerable time and effort pushing for Austin’s bid over the past few months, declined to comment Tuesday. But the mayor had said during the competition that the city would move forward with the elements of the plan it submitted, win or lose, subject to finding the money locally.

The competition challenged midsized cities to propose tech-oriented solutions to their transportation problems, with improvements that are mindful of reducing greenhouse gases and providing greater opportunities to disadvantaged communities.

Austin’s pitch envisioned traffic signals that automatically adjust their timing in response to changing traffic conditions. Other elements included converting city government vehicles and taxis to electric cars, deploying driverless vehicles at the airport and creating an all-inclusive “mobility pass” that provides access to everything from Capital Metro buses to ride-hailing services to rental B-Cycles bikes.

Making the city’s final presentation June 9, Adler noted that Austin is the most economically segregated city in the country but also one of the most tech-savvy, making the timing perfect to transform the city.

“We’re a city that’s all about innovation,” he said then.

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