Friday, September 16, 2011 | 2:52 p.m. CDT;
updated 10:31 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011
COLUMBIA — Bike trails and educational programming are the top recommendations from two committees about how to spend what is now an additional $5.1 million federal grant for GetAbout Columbia projects.
The Parks and Recreation Commission and the GetAbout Columbia advisory committee have already held public meetings to rank the projects. The Parks and Recreation Department and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission will also make recommendations.
Rankings of the four groups will be presented to City Council in 2012, and the council will decide how to spend the money, Jill Stedem, Public Works Department spokeswoman, said.
Recommendations won't be given to the council until 2012 because GetAbout is trying to wrap up the first round of projects, several of which are still in the design phase, Stedem said.
Conversations with the federal government about available funding initially indicated the city would receive approximately $6 million, Stedem said. According to a Sept. 1 Missourian report, Ted Curtis, GetAbout Columbia program director, said the city was awarded a $5.9 million grant in July.
In August, however, GetAbout Columbia received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration telling the city it would be receiving $5.1 million, Stedem said.
Because no documentation has been received from the Missouri Department of Transportation committing the funds, the money can't be spent yet, Stedem said in an email, and there is no estimated date for when this will happen.
The $5.1 million grant supplements a $22 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration that Columbia received in 2006 for bicycle and pedestrian projects designed to reduce reliance on vehicles.
Columbia is one of four government entities participating in the nonmotorized transportation initiative. The others are Marin County, Calif.; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.; and Sheboygan, Wis. All automatically received the extra grant money when Congress continued with the current highway law, rather than passing a new bill, according to a previous Missourian report.
Parks and Recreation Commission weighs in
The Parks and Recreation Commission met Thursday evening to rank the list of high priority projects left over from the first round of funding.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood, who led the discussion, told the commission there was $5.9 million available. Neither Curtis nor Stedem was at the meeting.
On Friday, Hood addressed the confusion about funding.
"That 5.9 figure was the figure we were given in the handouts," Hood said. "That's what we were using for our information. I have always been told it was anticipated it would be approximately $6 million."
The Parks and Recreation Commission decided its highest priority was the Cosmo Park trail project, which would connect the Bear Creek Trail at Creasy Springs Road through the park to a diverging diamond intersection planned for Stadium Boulevard at Interstate 70.. This project would cost nearly $1.2 million, according to budget estimates prepared by GetAbout Columbia.
Hood said that because the new interchange over Interstate 70 will have pedways for bicycles on either side, this trail would provide a way for people who live in neighborhoods to the south to cross the interstate and get to Cosmo Park.
The commission also voted to recommend that some of the funds go toward promotional and educational programming by the Parks and Recreation Department, such as the 2008 Neighbors on the Go classes that showed community members how to use the bike trails to make connections.
Bill Pauls was the only one of six parks commissioners who voted against the proposed rankings. He said there are people in the Second Ward who oppose the Cosmo Park Trail connection to the Bear Creek Trail because the proposed connection would overlap a nature and fitness trail with a concrete transportation corridor.
"We will fight that in Ward 2 as much as we can," he said.
Pauls also said the GetAbout program isn't well administered "in a lot of quarters" and that he needed to represent that perspective. "I think we're wasting a lot of money, and we're getting some value out of it, but not enough compared to the amount of money," he said.
GetAbout Columbia advisory committee rankings
Six members of the GetAbout Columbia advisory committee met Sept. 9 to discuss their recommendations for how the money should be spent.
Curtis suggested the group aim to allocate $3 million for trails and $1 million for sidewalks. Each committee member submitted individual project recommendations, which Curtis tallied after the meeting.
Overall, the top-ranking project for the group was connecting the Spring Valley Road and the Rockcreek Drive neighborhoods to the County House Trail, which, according to the budget estimate handed out at the meeting, would cost $266,000.
Darwin Hindman, former Mayor and head of the GetAbout Columbia advisory committee, said this would be a good project. "It would make the County House serve a lot of people," he said.
Second on the list was connecting the Shepard Boulevard neighborhood to Rollins Trail, which, according to the estimated budget, could cost $1.5 million or $3 million, depending on whether or not low-water bridges would need to be built.
Hindman said he thought it was an "improvement that will increase student use" and
that the city would "get a lot more bang for (its) buck."
The third-highest recommendation included improving the Ashland Road sidewalk from MU to Old 63 and improving the intersection of Ashland and Stadium Boulevard, which, according to the estimated budget, would cost $156,000.
"The real problem here is getting across Stadium," John Riddick, committee member, said. "You got to get on the wrong side of the street to push the button. Otherwise, you'll never get a light."
Hindman agreed and said fixing the intersection was more important than improving the sidewalk.