Bridging Greenway gap

After work on Newton's Heritage Trail Greenway stalled in May, city leaders recently bridged a $107,200 funding gap for the five-year project. Then on Thursday, city and state crews installed a different sort of bridge that puts the city one step closer to finishing the trail.
"We lack about 600 feet in the center of the Phase II," Newton City Manager Todd Clark explained about what remains unfinished after Thursday's bridge installation.
That portion of the trail is in a low-lying area that was impacted by rainfall throughout the summer. Due to moisture in that part of the trail, city staff have had a difficult time preparing the trail, applying gravel and keeping it there, Clark said.
"Some of those areas are still wet after three weeks with no rain," Clark said. "Once we can get the aggregate down, then we will be ready to pave."
Required as part of a $100,000 N.C. Department of Transportation grant, paving the second phase will be dependent on weather, Clark said, adding that "city staff knows how important it is to get this finished."
When the project is finished, it will be at least $95,000 over the original budget — including about $46,000 in city labor expenses. It is also more than three years behind the city's original project timeline submitted to NCDOT.
Again, Clark attributed some of that delay and added expense to repair efforts on trail portions affected by rainfall and moisture.
"I know we had a lot of storm activity that created erosion issues that we had to go back and fix, once we had already done the initial trail," he said. "A lot of repair work was involved."
The two-part project originally carried a price tag of $143,000 for both phases of the trail when it began in July 2005. Phase II of the project benefitted from a $100,000 NCDOT Enhancement Grant, which was matched by $25,000 in city funds.
Phase I of the trail has been complete about two years, according to Newton Planning Director Glenn Pattishall, and that portion of the Greenway extends between West Seventh Street and Radio Station Road near Carrillon Assisted Living. When both phases are complete, the trail will extend from West Seventh Street on N.C. 10.
According to Pattishall, Phase I cost $40,370 to complete, and it was about $22,370 over budget. Added expense came from equipment rentals, signage, repairs following washouts and ATV damage, among other materials.
Still, construction on Phase II forged ahead with an anticipated cost of $125,000. However, as of May, the expense tied to Phase II — a 3,300 foot part of the trail —  had already reached $90,793, including $38,600 associated with engineering and construction for a bridge to cross a small creek near the Radio Station Road end of the Phase II trail. At the time, Pattishall said another $61,000 was needed for remaining engineering and materials costs.
After lengthy debate during May's Council meeting, city officials tabled a request for additional funding. The request came as City Council was planning a city budget for the year, and elected officials balked at funding the Greenway while they faced cutting other services.
Meanwhile, if the city decided to forego completion of the project, it would also be liable for returning NCDOT grant funds totaling $63,910, Clark said.
When City Council revisited the issue again during an Aug. 3 meeting, a move to appropriate $107,200 needed to finish the project passed with only one dissenting vote and very little debate. That total includes $61,945 that will be drawn from the city's general fund balance for materials and remaining engineering and surveying expenses. The total also includes $46,255 in labor expenses for city crews working on the Greenway's two phases. Already, contributed city labor is valued at $26,255 and an additional $20,000 in city labor will be required to complete the work.
City financial officials said representing city labor in the total project cost as a capital contribution and adds to the value of the city asset.
"We had a budget session, and we are all cognizant of money. And there were days (in the budget workshops) when we were looking for $500 or $1,000," Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said, adding he was not in favor of postponing the Greenway during City Council's May meeting. "I don't take a stand very often, but we have started this project, we have taken the funds from the state, and we have presented a Greenway that is halfway finished to our citizens and which they enjoy. I would encourage us to do whatever we need to do to complete what we have committed to do."
Mullinax added that he did not want to see the city get "into the habit of getting into the middle of projects and backing out."
Council member Wayne Dellinger opposed additional funding for the project, citing concerns over using fund balance to complete the project.
"This is money we have not budgeted and money that is taken out of our savings account," Mullinax said. "It is money that will serve citizens for years to come."