City to seek private funding for pedestrian bridge

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington has been awarded a $500,000 Transportation Enhancement grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation to construct a pedestrian bridge over I-20 that would run parallel to the existing Ga. Hwy. 81 overpass.

The council voted 4 to 2 Monday night to accept the grant, with Councilmen Chris Smith and Keith Dalton opposing due to the fact that the grant won't cover the entire cost of construction.

The total project cost is estimated at $950,000. The city is required to fund a 20 percent match, or $100,000. The grant and match would still leave a balance of $350,000.

Grant writer Randy Conner said the city will seek private funding sources to make up the difference. If enough is raised, some of the private money could be applied toward the city's match, he said.

Previously, Conner told the council that additional funds could be available through a Livable Centers Initiative grant if the city extended the current LCI area, which is the U.S. Highway 278 corridor. That would have required an additional LCI study, which he said could be funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

However, "We approached the Atlanta Regional Commission and discussed the logistics of a new LCI study for North Covington. It was determined that the area was not large enough for an LCI and if we wanted to pursue that route, we would need to redo the Highway 278 LCI Study to include North Covington," Conner said. "Because the implementation of the plans associated with the Hwy. 278 LCI are already under way, and because the expense of a change in the Hwy. 278 scope would not necessarily net us funding, we determined that it would be less risky to seek other sources. While the City Council agreed to the terms of the TE grant I think the tone of the conversation leads us to believe the council is not willing to undertake the funding of the remainder of the project on our own."

Conner said additional funding could be sought from private foundations, noting that Oxford College officials have expressed support and there may be funding available from Emory University and other sources. It's not likely the city could obtain additional TE funds or another grant in the current economic climate, Conner said. The city would have 30 months to obtain additional funding.

The bridge would run parallel to the existing bridge that spans I-20 and ends at Geiger Street. The bridge would be 16 feet wide, with 10 feet usable for pedestrian traffic. It would be pre-constructed and could be installed in a matter of hours. The posts would not be on the interstate, Conner said.

The bridge would provide a safe way for Oxford College students and residents of North Covington and Oxford to walk or bike to the U.S. Highway 278 and downtown shopping districts, Conner said.

Maurice Carter, chairman of the Newton Trails-Path Foundation, previously said the current bridge has sidewalks that are too narrow and unsafe for pedestrians.

"If you get on the sidewalk and stumble you're going over the interstate," he said.

He said people are walking from the cul-de-sacs on Geiger Street down steep banks in a wooded area and crossing an active rail line to get to town.