Rails for Trails project in Mount Airy could be delayed by six months -- Gazette.Net


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A Mount Airy trail plan that has been in the works for about 20 years has been delayed again after the town council this week postponed a vote that would have reallocated funds to be used for further land purchases needed for the project.

The town council was scheduled to vote Monday on whether to move $4,500 from a new pavilion project at Watkins Park to the Rails to Trails program — a proposed pedestrian and cyclist trail along a rail line in town that has been unused for more than 60 years.

However, the five-member council decided to delay the vote by a month, and is expected to discuss the matter again at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 7.

The reallocation could have given the town the funds to conduct two land surveys needed to obtain and prioritize easements and move forward with the trail project.

Some council members said shifting the money could hinder the progress of the pavillion project. At issue is whether the town will need the $4,500 to make the pavilion compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“After I know whether or not we do have an ADA issue or not, I have no problem supporting the budget amendment. It’s just I want to make sure that we are not shooting ourselves in the foot and sending money here that could be used on ADA compliance,” Councilman David Blais said.

Currently, the pavillion project, which is scheduled to be completed sometime next year, has a nearly $15,000 surplus.

The Rails to Trails project is estimated to cost about $30,000, said Heather Smith, the town’s community planning coordinator. But it is also expected to have future costs related to land acquisition.

“I would rather those funds be used to make us ADA-compliant,” Councilman Bob King said of the surplus.

“We’re going to fund both,” Councilman Peter Helt said. “We might as well do it now while maybe we can get things done a little cheaper.... My perspective would be just get it done, and if we have an ADA compliance issue, we’ll come up with that money, too.”

The vision for the Rails to Trails project is to create a path for pedestrians and cyclists similar to other efforts across the nation.

The project would first construct a path from Watkins Park to the old train depot downtown, with the long-term goal of connecting downtown to the Twin Ridge and the Nottingham neighborhoods.

Larry Hushour, chairman of the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission, said that without the reallocation, the program — which has been in the planning stages for about two decades — could possibly be held up for another six months.

“We currently have zero dollars in the Rail to Trails line, and my understanding was that this line would be funded as needed throughout the fiscal year. Now it is needed, and now we to take it from somewhere. The pavillion is the best current spot to take it from due to the underrun in cost.... We can’t continue to be stagnant on this,” he said.

Five properties between Watkins Park and Main Street next to the rail line were appraised in 2009 for the program.

The town has obtained one easement for a property at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and is currently negotiating with property owners to obtain the others. Meanwhile, the town has received about $80,000 in grants for the project, most of which are from the state’s Program Open Space.

Hushour said the reallocation would allow the town to have two land surveys conducted that would help the commission to obtain easements for some of the outlined properties and prioritize the others.

Councilman Chris Everich said pushing back the reallocation could send the wrong message to those working on the trail project.

“I’m worried about the message we are sending,” Everich said. “... We have a group of citizen volunteers who are really trying to make Mount Airy a better place, and now all of sudden [council is] trying to waffle.”

myoung@gazette.net