City of Cincinnati finally, actually owns rail corridor for Wasson Way project

CINCINNATI -- The Wasson Way mixed-use trail project took a big step forward this week: The city finally, actually owns a big piece of property to build it.

Cincinnati City Council set aside nearly $12 million in this year's capital budget to purchase 4.1 miles of unused rail corridor. Mayor John Cranley announced Friday that the city had closed on the deal, more than a year after reaching an agreement with Norfolk Southern on the deal's terms.

The stretch purchased last week goes from Montgomery Road in Evanston to Wooster Pike in Columbia Township, with plans for a bike and pedestrian trail that could ultimately stretch from Victory Parkway near Xavier University to the Little Miami Bike Trail.

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"It will give 100,000 people, living within one mile of the trail, access to a network of over 100 miles of bike and pedestrian trails," Cranley said in a prepared announcement from his office. "Walking and bike trails improve the local quality of life and increase surrounding home values."

Proponents also predict job growth and $10 million in annual spending from bikers and walkers who use the trail through Avondale, Paddock Hills, Evanston, Hyde Park, Oakley, Mt. Lookout, Madisonville, Fairfax and Norwood.

If each of the 600,000 people who are predicted to use the bike trail annually spend an average of $8.64 on food and drink, it would net nearly $10 million in direct and indirect spending.

That's what students from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning predicted in their 2015 study of the economic impact of the Wasson Way bike trail.

Proponents have been working to make the trail a reality since 2011. What began as a handful of dreamers has grown into a grassroots movement, known as the Wasson Way Project, to get the trail built. The past 18 months have seen major steps forward -- and major setbacks -- for the project. After the city came to terms of a deal to purchase the rail corridor in May 2015, Cranley and parks leaders touted it as one of the major projects in a proposed parks levy that ultimately failed in November. And in October, the city missed out on a federal transportation grant to help pay for the trail. In May, Cranley unveiled a series of neighborhood projects he wanted funded in this year's budget, and Wasson Way was one of the priorities.

The city previously received a state grant to construct phase one of the trail, which will extend from Tamarack Avenue to Madison Road in Hyde Park. Construction is scheduled to begin next year.

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"The Wasson Way community has worked very hard on this project. It will be a wonderful addition to our Cincinnati neighborhoods," Councilwoman Amy Murray said in Friday's announcement. "I look forward to seeing all of the families on the bike trail in the future."

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