AZTEC — Commissioners on Tuesday approved an application for a federal grant that would allow the city to complete its top priority project.

The East Aztec Arterial Route project will redirect traffic around the city's historic downtown area to the east side of the city, starting on U.S. Highway 550 near the new Mictrotel Hotel and rejoining the highway at Navajo Dam Road.

The city has until April 28 to apply for federal funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, Discretionary Grant Program. The federal program funds projects "that have a significant impact on the Nation, a region or a metropolitan area," according to the Department of Transportation's website.

City of Aztec officials say completion of arterial route hinges on the $9,971,298 request for federal TIGER funds. Kathy Lamb, the city's finance director, calculated the amount based on construction costs for the road, accounting for inflation and unexpected costs.

The odds of securing the federal grant aren't great. Of the 700 TIGER applications the Federal Highway Administration received last year, only 47 were awarded, Lamb said.

Still, there's some hope. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010 designate Aztec an "urban cluster," which means the city can apply for the federal funds as a rural entity. That, Lamb said, may work in the city's favor.

"We are hoping that perhaps the new rule designation will help us," Lamb said. "We are also further along with the project and at a higher degree of readiness than we have been before. The project is better prepared. We've spent a lot of time on this, and we're in a much better position now."

But, Lamb said, a majority of the projects funded by the Department of Transportation have been innovative, such as bridges, light rail, transit authorities and port authorities.

"While it's important to the city, just trying to build a road is just not that innovative," she said. "We have really struggled to build a road that will provide a route for industrial traffic that's safer, alleviates the congestion through our downtown corridor and one that provides economic development opportunities by providing access to all the land out there. That, apparently, isn't sufficiently innovative. But we can't not apply for the funding. That's not an option."

The city has applied for the TIGER funds twice, in 2009 and 2010, without success.

City Manager Joshua Ray hopes the funding will come through this time.

"There's nothing sexy about it. We just need a utility truck arterial road," Ray said after the meeting. "Our legislation locally is behind it. We're getting letters of support as we speak to go with the application.

With help earlier this year from Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and other San Juan County legislators, the city of Aztec secured more than $3.8 million for the bypass road. Bandy sponsored the appropriation bill as part of his House Capital Outlay request during the 30-day legislative session that concluded in February.

"We want to see construction start this summer," Ray said. "We want people to be able to see a road — and then use it."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.