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July 31, 2013

New grant could help fund safe passage to lake

NORMAN — A new grant program could make funds available to build a multimodal path from Norman to Lake Thunderbird, city officials said this week.

Norman Parks Director Jud Foster and Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary told city council members the Federal Lands Access Program could pay for 80 percent of a 10-foot-wide multimodal path on the north side of State Highway 9 that would serve cyclists, runners and walkers.

“This is a new grant program,” Foster said. “Emphasis is going to be placed on high-use recreation.”

Clear Bay qualifies. The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is interested in partnering with Norman and would help with the local matching dollars if the city wins the grant.

However, winning the grant isn’t the only issue. To avoid paying huge amounts of money to purchase right of way access, the city would need to get permission from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to build the path in ODOT’s right of way well off the roadway but parallel to Highway 9.

Sharing the right of way makes sense on paper — the path is a transportation project and would get cyclists off Highway 9 and onto a safer venue. Additionally, the Tourism Department approached Norman about the partnership and is eager to pursue it.

“The state department of tourism sets this up as their No. 1 priority in Oklahoma,” O’Leary said.

If ODOT refuses, it’s a deal-breaker, O’Leary said. The project would become too costly to pursue even with the grant money.

The new federal grant program is available for states, counties, tribes and local governments to provide funding for transportation projects that provide access to federal lands. Norman has a good chance of receiving the grant because there are probably very few applications in the state, O’Leary said. Further, the multimodal path is a good match with the grant goals of linking urban and federal recreation areas.

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