Discussion was both intense and positive Tuesday night as Mansfield City Council discussed moving ahead with a $500,000 commitment of American Rescue Plan Funds to the proposed extension of access to the Richland B&O Trail from Trimble Road during a Finance Committee meeting.
Conversation began with a series of reflections on the discussion at the last meeting of City Council, after which the body unanimously voted down the same measure based largely on budgetary concerns. Many members shared that additional information which has been made available since that time have provided additional reasons to support the project.
As Council member Aurelio Diaz shared, time has revealed that the community was disappointed in Council’s initial take on the project. Council member Stephanie Zader noted that the additional details have revealed that the extension will be a beneficial one and would be consistent with good stewardship of ARPA monies which will fuel the City’s involvement.
City Engineer and Acting Public Works Director Bob Bianchi then briefly reviewed the project.
The idea began, he shared, in a conversation between he and the Mayor about connecting the B&O via a separate trail to downtown. Two initial phases in that plan have been completed, he said, leaving this particular extension, which happens to be the most difficult. The connector would meander through the conservancy area to connect with the trail, pass through wetland areas, and would finally move toward downtown with future connections.
The path would be ten feet wide and be approximately 1.1 miles in length. It would begin near Alta Greenhouse on Home Road and cross two properties – one owned by the Western Reserve Conservancy and one by Ohio Health. Both entities support the project and will supply easements, Bianchi shared.
Long term maintenance would be provided by the Richland County Park District, which has made a commitment to allow the use of the parking lot it owns immediately adjacent. The District will also mow and maintain the boardwalk over the wetlands part of the path.
The path would be concrete versus asphalt to maximize its useful life.
Funding for the $1.75 million would come through the following: $500,000 from the City of Mansfield; $150,000 in state capital funds through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; $600,000 from regional planning; and $500,000 from the Richland County Commissioners.
Design work should begin next month. That work should take a year and a half because of the use of federal funds, putting the beginning of construction at January, 2025 and completion eight months later.
Some general caution was expressed by committee member Almoar Davenport who, while expressing support for the project, confessed to some unease about moving forward without knowing that the temporary proposed budget will hold up and be “where it should be.”
Bianchi and County Commissioner Cliff Mears did answer general questions about the timeframe, including questions related to separating out an initial $200,000 for design for initial passage.
Mears spoke of the monies involved in 2022 alone in joint City/County projects, including this proposal. This speaks highly of the unparalleled level of cooperation in the community, he emphasized.
All other Council members who spoke supported the idea of moving ahead with the entire $500,000 allocation. Ideas advanced included ways in which the trail system can benefit the Mansfield area through tourism, transportation improvements, quality of life, and improved safety.
All public commenters expressed strong support. Two of the citizens who spoke, Jay Miller and Dillon Carr, shared personal observations of the dangerous conditions which the current trail end can present. Carr was actually struck recently and suffered injuries as a result.
During their regular meeting a few minutes later, Council passed the measure unanimously.
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