Cuts could hit trail

Officials say changes to the structure of a federal program may affect funding for the final phase of the Western Reserve Greenway bike trail.

Zachary Svette, operations director with Trumbull County MetroParks, said the estimated cost of the project is $5 million, meaning the parks have to come up with $1 million to match.

MetroParks is responsible for initiating Phase 4 of the Greenway, which will connect trails in Niles and Warren.

“We’re not quite sure right now where that money is going to come from at this point,” Svette said Thursday.

Trumbull County’s portion of the Greenway has been broken down into four phases and accounts for 14.65 miles of multi-use trail. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement federal aid program has been responsible for a large portion of funding for those operations, according to officials.

In July 2012, President Obama signed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act into law, substantially changing the CMAQ program.

Previously, CMAQ provided complete federal funding on projects like the Greenway. Under the new act, 80 percent of funding will be federal, but a 20 percent matching fund is also required.

“They do have the mandatory match under the new program,” Ken Sympson, program manager with the Eastgate Council of Governments, said. “There was a provision in the old act that allowed for complete funding of programs like the Greenway trail. That provision has been removed.”

The MetroParks conducted a preliminary development study for the phase in 2011, but Svette assumed the CMAQ funding would remain complete.

“Obviously, this happened at the federal level, so it’s something projects across the country are going to have to account for,” he said. “We have to investigate it and see what we can do about it.”

Phase 4 of the Greenway will be a 3.5-mile connection between the Warren side of the trail with the Niles portion, but officials are undecided on the best option for joining the two existing paths.

The first option would construct the path from the south end of the Warren Greenway at Burton Street S.E. south along the abandoned Baltimore and Ohio / Pennsylvania Lines Railroad for four miles to the north end of the Niles Greenway.

While the tracks are abandoned on the Warren side, train activity on the railroad bed in Niles present possible issues with this plan.

The other three options involve use of city, state and county roads, according to documents.

Niles city Engineer Mark Hess said, “To me, the best option is to stay in the railroad bed and off city streets.

“I also know, if you are dealing with those railroad tracks, you could be looking at something that is 10 to 15 years away. I’ve been involved in projects that took 10 years, and we were dealing railroad tracks that weren’t active,” he said.

According to Svette, while discussions about the different options are ongoing, the first order of business is figuring out where the $1 million to match federal funding will come from.

“We’re hoping within the next couple weeks to meet and get a plan going,” Svette said. “Hopefully, we will have a decision in next couple months. I’d say we should have it decided by July.”

Svette estimates construction on Phase 4 will begin in 2020. “The start (of construction) could depend on various factors, like the funding, property acquisitions and other things,” he said.

The Western Reserve Greenway Bike Trail is part of the larger Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway, which is a planned 100-mile trail from Lake Erie in Ashtabula County, through Trumbull and Mahoning counties, to the Ohio River in Columbiana County. It will eventually connect to a network of similar trails that spans the entire nation.

The 14.6 miles of trail in the northern portion of Trumbull County from the Ashtabula County border to Champion East has been open since 2004.

Currently, Trumbull County officials are working on Phase 3 of the Greenway, which is 2.5 miles between North River Road and Champion Avenue East.

That phase is being run by the Trumbull County Planning Commission and could start the $1.2 million construction by March 2014, according to officials, with a possible completion in 2015.