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More city money no help for Durham trail

Advocates for the West Ellerbe Creek greenway are pressing City Council members to appropriate more than $75,000 to it in the 2013-14 city budget.

They claim the city needs to set aside more to ensure it doesn’t lose a $1 million federal matching grant. Appropriating more now, though, would accomplish nothing and could jeopardize the federal money, according to Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson and Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen.

“It’s not just providing money, it’s the feds saying you’re ready to spend it,” Ahrendsen told council members during a budget work session this week.

The proposed $75,000 is intended to pay for land to complete the right-of-way and finish the project design for those parcels. The city can’t apply to access the federal money until it owns the entire right-of-way and has a completed design.

“That could be 10, 12 months away,” Ahrendsen said. Sale-terms negotiations with property owners must be settled as well as design done.

Since the next step after design is actual construction, any city appropriation above the $75,000 “would hypothetically go to start construction,” Ferguson wrote in a memo to City Manager Tom Bonfield. But if construction starts before the city has access to the federal funds, the grant could be withdrawn.

“Bottom line – adding money to the project has no tangible effect on making the project happen faster, because regardless of our funding commitment, we have to wait on the federal money to proceed,” Ferguson wrote.

Total construction cost for the 1.2-mile greenway is estimated at $1.6 million. The trail would connect Westover Park, in the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood, with the North-South Greenway at Stadium Drive, running along Ellerbe Creek under Interstate 85 and past the Costco and the North Pointe Commons Apartments on Broad Street.

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