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County, city funding shortfall on trail

COVINGTON — The Board of Commissioners agreed by a 3 to 2 vote Tuesday to spend additional money on the Library to Eastside Trail in order to go with a concrete versus asphalt surface.

Eighty-eight percent of the trail is located within the city of Covington.

The total project cost is about $1.65 million, with revenue sources totaling $1.54 million, leaving a shortfall of $115,162, which the city and county have agreed to split evenly.

The city will pay 100 percent of the cost of maintenance and security on the trail.

The county is paying a total of $287,581, or 17.3 percent of the total project cost. That does not include seven years of staff time devoted to grant applications and various other components of coordinating the project. The city’s portion is approximately $310,000.

Chairman Kathy Morgan said the money to fund the additional cost for concrete — about $58,000 — is available in the county’s capital improvements fund. She said the board previously designated $230,000 for the project, of which $131,000 has been spent for engineering and other costs. Morgan said the designated $230,000 was not in the past set aside in the capital improvement fund as money that has been designated for specific projects is required to be, so she took funds from another project that came in under budget and designated them for this project.

Commissioner Mort Ewing said that fund is typically used for transportation projects, “public roads people ride on.” Ewing said the additional $58,000 for concrete could be used toward a road project.

But Morgan said the Department of Transportation has designated the trail a transportation project. The DOT has committed $950,000 to the project, she said. In addition, six property owners have committed more than $120,000, one industry has committed $30,000, and six landowners reduced the price to purchase right of way.

At a previous meeting, Ewing had asked if the project could be partially completed in concrete with the rest in gravel, to be complete when funds are available. But Delk said that would require a new design and rebidding, which would cost more money.

The City Council did not vote on an asphalt option and officials said they would not agree to take care of 100 percent of maintenance on an asphalt trail.

Commissioner Tim Fleming made a motion that the county go with the cheaper asphalt option and negotiate a maintenance agreement with the Covington City Council. But some commissioners said there’s no guarantee the city would agree to maintain the asphalt, which requires more repairs and is less hardy than concrete. Asphalt has to be resurfaced every few years, while concrete can last up to 50 years, according to Delk.

“Over the lifetime of the asphalt-based trail we’re going to spend more money on M&O versus on concrete,” said Commissioner Lanier Sims, adding that the county might spend more than the $58,000 needed for concrete to maintain asphalt.

With a 90-day deadline to award the project or else rebid it, Commissioner Nancy Schulz offered a substitute motion to approve the concrete option, with the city paying for 100 percent of maintenance. The vote was 3 to 2 with Ewing and Fleming opposed.

“We know this project is sidewalks for children to have a safe route to school along a road that’s very dangerous,” Schulz said. “If the Board of Commissioners prior to us even coming on this board designated this as an important project for us to have and set aside funding, I think we have an obligation to fund it.”

The 2.5-mile trail will begin at the Newton County Library on Floyd Street and meander in a southeasterly direction through Chimney Park to Martin Street, proceed east along Martin Street, and through undeveloped right of way to Eagle Drive. From there the trail will cross Eagle Drive by way of a pedestrian underpass and continue on an undeveloped 50-foot right of way south to Eastside High School and on to the Alcovy River.

The trail will connect the library and the downtown to future mixed-use developments, residences, retail, restaurants, the high school, a conservation easement and the proposed Alcovy River Greenway.

The total project cost, including the tunnel, is about $1.65 million. The Georgia Department of Transportation is paying for the most costly portion, the tunnel, and more than $900,000 in grant money has been received for the project.

The trail will be accessible to bicycles, walking, assisted mobility vehicles, but not golf carts, which are not considered safe with two-way traffic walkers, Delk said.