Note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. May 15.
The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday unanimously approved an engineering contract for the Rails to Trails project, which would convert a former CSX railroad into a bicycle and pedestrian pathway.
The consulting contract, worth an estimated $358,317, was awarded to A. Morton Thomas and Associates of Kingsport.
The agreement, approved 7-0, is to provide environmental testing, master planning, design and engineering of the trail, and help with construction bidding, Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks Director Jon Hetrick told City Manager Mark Watson in a May 4 memo.
There is still much work to be done, including buying the former railroad, and the project might not go out to bid until May 2020, or two years from now, according to a draft timeline presented at the City Council meeting on Monday. And that’s assuming all goes well.
“Design and engineering will provide construction cost estimates and a phasing schedule, along with a basis for negotiating the acquisition of the rail line from CSX Rail,” Hetrick said. “Because the current programmed funding will not cover the entire project cost, the master plan will be used to leverage additional funding for construction from various funding sources, including federal highway and private funds.”
Funds for Rails to Trails were approved in October 2016 by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or TPO, and they are funded through the Tennessee Department of Transportation Transportation Alternatives Program.
The TPO awarded Oak Ridge $1,224,000, requiring a match of $306,000, for a total of $1,530,000, Hetrick said.
City Council approved a local agency project agreement accepting the TDOT grant funds in July 2017.
Funding of $100,000 was included in the fiscal year 2018 Capital Improvements Program for greenway improvements, to be used as a portion of the match for the grant funding, Hetrick said.
He said construction of the trail will occur in phases to be identified in the master plan.
“Obtaining funding for construction in phases will allow the project to be constructed over an extended timeframe, potentially lessening the impact of budgetary constraints on the provision of required matching funds,” Hetrick said.
On Monday, Oak Ridge City Council member Ellen Smith said there are a number of hoops to jump through, and City Council member Chuck Hope asked if it is worthwhile for the city to proceed using the grant, rather than self-funding the project.
“This is kind of the way we have to do it,” Watson responded.
Some of the steps, such as the engineering work, would have to be undertaken anyway, even without the grant, Watson said.
Smith there there is an expectation that the city could get follow-on grants for the Rails to Trails project.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said he supports the project, but there is limited time between now and June, when some of the Rails to Trails project steps are supposed to start. Gooch said he wants to make sure Hetrick, the parks director, can stay focused on a number one priority, the renovations at Blankenship Field, which will include synthetic turf, before starting on another project.
The Rails to Trails project in Oak Ridge would convert about 4.85 miles of unused CSX railroad into a pedestrian and bicycle trail. There is still much work to be done, including acquiring the property and designing and building the trail. Officials suggest it could be several years at least before the project is completed.
The former railroad starts at Elza Gate Park at Melton Lake Drive in east Oak Ridge, runs past the Emory Heights neighborhood and Jefferson Middle School, crosses Emory Valley Road, and then continues through the Hendrix Creek neighborhood along Lafayette Drive before ending near South Illinois Avenue, Scarboro Road, and the Y-12 National Security Complex.
“The Oak Ridge greenways serve as a recreational asset for the community and region,” Hetrick said. “Conversion of the former CSX rail line to a greenway will also provide an alternative transportation opportunity, connecting several neighborhoods, schools, and businesses on the east side of the city and providing a connection to sidewalks leading to the Main Street Oak Ridge redevelopment project. The proposed agreement with (A. Morton Thomas and Associates) will provide environmental assessment and clearances, master planning and engineering, and construction bidding assistance for the trail.”
Some key steps on the timeline presented Monday include:
- Notice to proceed—May 2018
- Preliminary plans—June 2018 to January 2019
- Construction plans—December 2019 to February 2020
- Project bid—May 2020
The City Council meeting started at 7 p.m. Monday, May 14, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 South Tulane Avenue. See the agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See previous Rails to Trails stories here.
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