Commission gets bike path rolling

CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission agreed to match a federal grant that could pay for construction of a bike path along W.Va. 480, outside of Shepherdstown, but backers of the project await word on whether the U.S. Department of Transportation will fund it.

Town Recorder Lori Robertson told the commission the half-mile section of path, which will run along with west side of W.Va. 480, would connect existing paths to greatly increase bike and pedestrian access to Morgan’s Grove Park.

“This path will connect several county subdivisions, two schools, businesses and services [within] Shepherdstown to Morgan’s Grove safely,” Robertson said, adding preliminary estimates for the cost of the bike trail put the price at around $539,000, but a federal grant program could cover most of those costs if local governments can put up 20 percent – $108,000 – in required matching funds.

Mayor Jim Auxer and Town Council Member Dave Springer said Shepherdstown will contribute 30 percent of those matching

funds, but hope the county will contribute the remaining $75,500. The town will also administer the grant, provide a project manager and issue requests for proposals.

“This is something for all of us, and it’s an important project,”

Auxer said, noting Morgan’s Grove is the most utilized park in the county.

“This … allows the county and the town to get together to show the people that live here that we can communicate and we can work something out for the common good. That’s what this project is: something for the common good,” he said.

Springer said the project has widespread local support and pointed out that it took less that 15 days for a Facebook page supporting the plan to gather 547 members and 26 written letters of support, including letters from Shepherd University officials, regional planning officials, business owners and elected representatives.

A similar proposal was put forward in 2009. The commission agreed to provide matching funds that year, but the U.S. Department of Transportation ultimately to approve the grant proposal, effectively shelving the project.

However, Matt Mullenax, transportation planner and GIS analyst with the Hagerstown-Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, said it is more likely that the grant will be approved this year because state Division of Highways officials have been familiarized with the project.

“I walked with the director of program planning at [the Division of Highways] from the Clarion, down to Morgan’s Grove where this proposed path would go,” Mullenax said. “I think that since with the recent DOT visits for a number of projects in Jefferson County, this has higher visibility than it did in 2009.”

Auxer said there were 150 applicants currently vying for these funds.

Commissioners expressed universal support for the project, despite a small dustup that arose over how the county would pay for it.

Commissioner Walt Pellish, who noted that revenue declines would force the county to be more selective about spending, challenged Commissioner Lyn Widmyer to motion to divert leftover money from a fund originally set up to purchase the Shepherdstown Cement Mill property and that was later allocated to build a war memorial and pavilion at Sam Michaels Park.

Commission President Dale Manuel said he was not in favor of diverting funds from the pavilion project.

“You may be a hero to one, but you may be a villain to another,” he commented, moving to earmark $25,000 from the county’s contributions fund and then examine other options for the remainder of the funding.

Pellish moved to amend the motion, arguing that the commission should issue a letter committing them to providing the funding. He said the commission would have time to determine where the money would come from at its budget session next week.

Shepherdstown officials have until March 15 to file their grant application.

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