The Norman Transcript

July 31, 2013

New grant could help fund safe passage to lake

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

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.

The project is also a good match with Norman’s goals. The city already has a Transportation Enhancement grant to start the initial path at 24th Avenue Southeast. That ongoing project is planned to run just past 36th Avenue Southeast.

The program would allow an additional 8.5 miles to connect Norman to the Clear Bay area. The first six miles would be in Norman’s area of responsibility, and the last two miles would fall to the tourism department.

“Our share is to 120th (Avenue); the state would take it to 142nd (Avenue),” O’Leary said. “This is a very large undertaking. What we’re talking about here is picking up where the current grant leaves off east of 36th Avenue.”

If the new grant were won, it would phase out over a five-year period. The grant would provide 80 percent of the funding for the project with a 20 percent match required.

Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation is willing to share half of the local 20 percent cost of the first phase, which is the feasibility study. Norman and the tourism department would each contribute about $51,000 for that portion.

The project would mean building two miles of the trail each year for four years. The tourism department would also pay the 20 percent match for the portion on state park property, which will come to about $240,000.

Norman’s obligation would be about $195,000 per year for each of the years of construction. The city’s share of the money would likely come from capital funds and/or the Greenbelt Acquisition fund.

Norman also will be responsible for maintenance of those first six miles, but the city already mows that Highway 9 right of way.

If the grant is awarded, the feasibility study will look at various viable options but the initial plan is for a 10-foot wide concrete path with separation from the highway.

“That’s really been the goal from the beginning, to separate the path from the highway,” O’Leary said. “That presents some challenges.”

ODOT has made a commitment through its eight-year plan to make improvements along Highway 9, and the construction of the path could coincide with those projects. The application deadline is Aug. 5.

The city will pursue the application and already has opened discussions with ODOT regarding right-of-way access.

That access is needed on the existing project from 24th Avenue Southeast to 36th Avenue Southeast.

Joy Hampton