City takes step toward expanding network of bike, pedestrian paths

Mike Owen

How the approach to the Frank Martin Bridge on 14th Street would appear with a greenway path built.
How the approach to the Frank Martin Bridge on 14th Street would appear with a greenway path built. Courtesy of PATH Foundation

 The city will enter into a “master agreement” with the PATH Foundation, Inc., in a step toward expanding the existing network of bicycle and pedestrian trails in the city.

Columbus Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the city entering into the agreement, which will not obligate the city to fund any of the project, but to facilitate the work and lend certain employees to it.

The plan calls for building 27.5 miles of trails in 12 “links” that would first connect the Riverwalk and the Fall Line Trace, the city’s two existing such trails, and then interconnect trails in other parts of the city, such as the new Follow Me Trail and a proposed trail along the length of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The foundation hopes to complete the projects in five years.

Councilor Judy Thomas said she would support the city entering into the agreement, but only if she could be assured that it did not commit the city to spending any money.

“I think this would be a terrific addition to our city, but we don’t have the money to do this,” Thomas said. “I’m going to vote for this memorandum of understanding, but I don’t want anybody to misconstrue what we’re doing here today. We’re approving this memorandum at no cost to the city.”

City Manager Isaiah Hugley assured Thomas that no city funds could be used on the project without council’s future approval.

The PATH Foundation, an Atlanta-based non-profit, has so far built more than 220 miles of “greenway” trails in Georgia and South Carolina, including Atlanta’s Beltline Trail. It has also helped raise more than $40 million in private sector funding for the projects.

In Columbus, a non-profit foundation has already been established to begin raising funds.

Councilor Glenn Davis said he enthusiastically supports the initiative and said one possible source for funding would be the discretionary funding that will be produced by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will be producing over the next 10 years.

“Keep in mind that we have discretionary money that’s earmarked for projects like this that we’re going to be collecting for years now. It can also be used, in addition to these other opportunities,” Davis said. “This is nothing but a positive for the community.”

Councilor Gary Allen expressed concern about the city’s responsibility for maintaining the miles of paths once they are built.

Hugley said that because most of the paths will be built along existing city right of way, which the city already pays to keep mowed, the paths will reduce the amount of right of way the city has to mow, thus reducing city maintenance costs rather than increasing them.