CINCINNATI – An approaching summer deadline and several multi-million dollar deals are looming that could indefinitely stall plans for the proposed Wasson Way trail on Cincinnati’s East Side.
City leaders are mulling over how to raise nearly $12 million needed to purchase more than 4 acres of land owned by railroad company Norfolk Southern. Cincinnati City Council approved terms of purchase back last June, which are now set to expire in July. If the deal can’t be wrapped up by then, the city could pay a nearly $590,000 fee to extend the closing to July 2017.
Meanwhile, acquisition talks under way between rail company Canadian Pacific and Norfolk have some city leaders concerned about the time crunch to purchase the needed land.
“Now’s our opportunity to purchase it,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs council’s major transportation committee. “If we miss this opportunity, I don’t know if it will be gone because we don’t know what’s going to happen if another railroad purchases this.”
A majority of council remains on board with pursuing the project, which would ultimately connect Avondale and Fairfax for pedestrians and cyclists. Eight members of council this week signed a motion asking the city administration to continue to offer recommendations on possible sources of funding for the $11.57 million deal.
“Hopefully, this will become a reality,” Murray said.
Could Streetcar Funding Tool Work For Trails Too?
For now, the administration isn’t saying just where it might look to cover the acquisition costs.
Councilmember Yvette Simpson this week asked the administration to consider looking at a funding structure for the trail that’s similar the way the city plans to pay for a portion of the streetcar’s operating costs.
"There is a specific benefit to people along this corridor," Simpson said.
Under that plan, developers in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine can apply for 12-year to 15-year tax abatements, if they agree to contribute 15 percent of the incentive into a streetcar operating fund.
The nonprofit backing the Wasson Way project has said the trail would spark countless development opportunities, boost spending locally by up to $9 million and increase the values of homes near the trail by up to $9,000 each.
Other sources could also come from private donations, officials have said.
Throughout the end of 2015, the nonprofit backing the project hosted a fundraising campaign that more than $241,000, according to Wasson Way.
Aside from the acquisition costs, the project carries and estimated $19- to $23-million construction price tag. Plans call for the work to be done in at least four phases in order to extend the trail through Avondale, Evanston, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout and Oakley. The phases include:
Phase 1: Tamarack to Madison ($980,000-$1,855,000).
Phase 2: Montgomery to Tamarack ($1,260,000-$2,135,000).
Phase 3: Madison to Erie ($4,320,000-$5,195,000).
Phase 4: Erie to Wooster ($6,200,000-$7,075,000).
Within the next month, Cincinnati’s Director of Transportation and Engineering Michael Moore has said he hopes to offer a full report to council on the potential options.
'Just Need to Move Forward'
City leaders have pledged to continue to apply for state and federal funding for the project.
At the end of 2105, the project was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that could be applied to construction costs.
That award landed after two big funding misses.
In October, the Wasson Way nonprofit learned that it was denied a $20 million federal TIGER grant. The next month, Cincinnati voters rejected a proposed parks tax in November that pledged to cover the projects costs.
“The first step is acquiring the land,” Murray said this week. “We just need to move forward.”