Trail construction may move into slow lane

2013-01-07T14:51:00Z 2013-01-08T14:47:07Z Trail construction may move into slow laneBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Northwest Indiana's ambitious hike and bike trails push has had its federal funding cut almost in half, meaning more local funds will have to be used or projects scaled back.

Under the latest federal transportation bill, alternative transport projects such as hike and bike trails in the three counties will be eligible for about $1.1 million per year in federal funds, as compared to $1.95 million previously, according to Mitch Barloga, a planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

"We lost almost $1 million right off the top, and we have more projects than ever to consider," Barloga told a meeting of NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee on Tuesday.

A two-year $100 billion federal transportation bill, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, was passed by the U.S. Congress last year. It replaced the previous five-year transportation bill.

Before the extent of the federal cuts were known, the region was on track to have about 100 miles of hike and bike trails by next year.

Until now, the effect of the new bill on alternative transport projects such as hike and bike trails was not exactly known. Alternative transport projects that can also be funded with the money include the Safe Routes to School program, rehabilitation of historic transportation buildings and a couple of others.

But the bulk of the funds, some 80 percent, goes to hike and bike trails and related projects. On Tuesday, the Transportation Policy Committee responded to the cut in federal funds by approving new criteria for funding applications from communities.

Also included was a new funding arrangement, under which annual funding for individual hike and bike trail projects will be only about one-third of that available previously. Complete funding for a project could be achieved over three years, Barloga said.

That means projects will either take longer or local communities will have to put up more money if they want to see projects completed quickly, Barloga said.

The recently completed Monn Trail in Hammond is a good example of what can be done if a community completely funds its own trail, Barloga said. That trail was completed in just one year.

The NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee also unveiled a new video Tuesday that promotes public participation in implementation of its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, which guides development in the three-county area.

The video will be available at both NIRPC's newly reconstructed Web site and on YouTube.

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