Mayor Rob Duncan called it a “once-in-a-lifetime project for the community” that “adds to the quality of life.” Council members generally sounded supportive, but also shared how tough of a decision it would be for the city to come up with a maximum of $615,000, which would go toward the required initial studies and design. Duncan and interim public works director Wally Ritchie said that figure is the worst-case scenario.
The multi-use trail/bicycle path would be on property that Norwalk purchased from Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway in the late 1990s. The 10-foot wide concrete path would stretch slightly more than two miles and cross two bridges and a ravine. The path would connect Veterans Memorial Lake Park to the Ernsthausen Community Center and allow pedestrians and bicyclists to travel the north-south length of Norwalk while only crossing four streets.
Construction, if the project is approved, is planned to start in 2022.
“I think it’s a great thing for the community,” said Councilman Jordy Horowitz, but noted it’s a tough financial decision to make.
In April 2018, council approved the city of Norwalk to apply for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant. At that point, Norwalk’s contribution was going be $150,000 on the $1.1 million project, which was planned to happen in two phases.
Then in February, council learned that since all the money in the transportation alternatives program through the ODOT hadn’t been spent, the city could receive another $390,000 in grant money. Former public works director Josh Snyder told council the project only would be bid once and wouldn’t be done in the two phases, as was originally proposed. That pushed the total project cost to $1.6 million, with Norwalk needing to contribute $615,000.
The city learned it was awarded the grant in February, which meant its contribution hadn’t been budgeted for 2019. On Tuesday, council tabled the proposed legislation to appropriate the money.
“I think it’s worth fighting for,” Ritchie told council, referring to the project. “As long as we’re eligible (for grants), we might as well try for them.”
Finance director Michelle Reeder said Tuesday that $221,000 for the overall design would go toward the overall money needed from the city.
“It’s still the taxpayer’s dollars,” Councilman Dave Wallace said. “It’s a lot of money.”
Wallace, who represents the second ward, asked what the city could do to save money in order to compensate for the increased grant contribution. Ritchie said he plans to scale back — but not eliminate — curbing, sidewalk and handicapped-accessibility projects.
“I’m looking for anything. … I don’t want to take anything away from resurfacing,” he added.
Duncan said Wednesday the administration is behind trying to find more funds and has been in contact with ODOT officials in an attempt to get extensions for the next phase of the grant.
Council members brought up the issue of handling the greenery around the path once it’s complete. Ritchie said it costs about $5,000 a year to mow the grass in that area now and once the trail is in, city workers would drive down the middle and spray weeds on each side.