County commits $100,000 more to trail

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- County commissioners committed an additional $100,000 to the Library to Eastside Trail project Tuesday night, contingent on receipt of more grant money.

The vote was 3-2 with Commissioners Earnest Simmons, Nancy Schulz and J.C. Henderson in favor and Commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming opposed. The money will serve as a required 20 percent match should the county receive an additional $400,000 in federal funding.

If the grant is approved, the match would bring the county's total commitment to $228,304. The additional match money is not budgeted but the project qualifies as a transportation project and can be funded through the county's capital improvements fund, according to Chairman Kathy Morgan.

The city of Covington opted Monday night not to participate in the next phase of funding. The city had previously committed $225,000 to the trail, the majority of which lies within city limits. Newton County Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Delk pointed out that despite this, the city and county would still wind up paying almost equal shares on the project.

The 2.6 mile concrete trail will run from the corner of Floyd Street and Ramsey Drive through Chimney Park behind the library to Martin Street, through a pedestrian tunnel and along undeveloped right of way to Eastside High School. The total cost is about $1.8 million, much of which has been funded by state and federal dollars. A shortfall of $460,510 remains.

Construction documents and right of way plans have been completed and purchase of easements is nearly complete, according to Delk. Approximately $125,000 in easements have been donated, and funding also includes a $30,000 private donation.

Schulz said while many people think of trails from a recreational standpoint, the trail will also provide a vital transportation link.

Ewing asked if the project could be completed with material other than concrete, such as stone donated from the rock quarry and mulch from the landfill, to reduce cost.

But Delk said that would be tantamount to starting over on a project that's been under way for years and the county would lose the money already spent on design work.

"This is a federally funded project. We're locked in," she said.

Commissioners did not agree to another option presented by Delk to apply for an $800,000 grant, which would require a $200,000 match from the county. That would have covered amenities such as bike racks, benches, crosswalk striping, bike ramps, handicap parking at Chimney Park for trail accessibility and walkways from the library and health centers to the park and onto the trail. Nonprofit group Newton Trails Path Foundation has committed to helping fund amenities.