Work has started on the next phase of Rails to Trails, a project to convert a former CSX railroad into a bicycle and pedestrian pathway in the center of Oak Ridge.
After about six months of discussions, the City of Oak Ridge has a right of entry, which allows geotechnical and surveying work to be done on the former railroad, said Jon Hetrick, director of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. Geotechnical work allows holes to be bored in the ground for subsurface studies.
The survey and geotechnical work is being done by A. Morton Thomas and Associates of Kingsport. The Oak Ridge City Council awarded a $358,317 contract to that company in May. A. Morton Thomas is to provide environmental testing, master planning, design and engineering of the trail, and help with construction bidding.
After a Tuesday evening City Council work session, Hetrick said the geotechnical and survey work is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The city hopes to have the NEPA phase approved through the Tennessee Department of Transportation by August, Hetrick said.
Once TDOT approves that phase, then the project can move to design, Hetrick said.
Right-of-way acquisition would be the next phase after design. CSX still owns the former railroad.
In May, city officials said it could be a few years before the project goes out to bid, 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 in a memo before last year’s City Council meeting. “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 TDOT Transportation Alternatives Program.
The TPO awarded Oak Ridge $1,224,000, requiring a match of $306,000, for a total of $1,530,000.
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.
In May, 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.
The Rails to Trails project in Oak Ridge would convert about 4.85 miles of unused CSX railroad into a pedestrian and bicycle trail. 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 in May. “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.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See previous Rails to Trails stories here.
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