Lexington receives $14 million federal grant to pay for Town Branch Trail

BY BETH MUSGRAVE, bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article92010782.html#storylink=cpy

The linear Town Branch Commons project includes four sections. One of the proposed larger green spaces in the downtown linear park includes a park behind the Kentucky Theatre and the Urban County Government Center. That area is currently a series of asphalt parking lots.

This illustration shows a proposed pocket park along Vine Street for the 2.5-mile Town Branch Commons, a linear trail and park that will connect downtown Lexington to the city’s trail system. SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

Lexington has received a $14.1 million federal grant that will pay for the Town Branch Trail from South Forbes Street to Midland and Third streets, city and federal officials announced Tuesday.

The $14.1 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant is a competitive grant for infrastructure projects offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The grant will be used to finish a section of the Town Branch Trail from South Forbes Road on Manchester Road through the Distillery District. The grant will also be used to pay for portions of a more than 2 1/2-mile section of the trail downtown from Oliver Lewis Way to to the Issac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on Third Street.

The 2 1/2-mile section is called the Town Branch Commons, which is part of the overall Town Branch Trail. Other funding to build the commons includes nearly $7 million in state and federal transportation grants and $10 million in city bond money. Additionally, the city is pursuing a $5.6 million low-interest loan from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority to pay for the trail and enhanced streetscape, such as plants and benches.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who pushed for the grant, said the $14.1 million will make the project — and the dream of connecting the Town Branch and Legacy trails — a reality.

“To win a grant like this we had to overcome some really tough competition,” Gray said. “It’s exciting news for a project that has so much transformative potential for the city. It just shows that hard work and a good vision can pay off. Sometimes we need to be patient but persistent.”

Gray praised U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell for helping the city make its case with federal transportation officials. Gray also thanked U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, a staffer for President Barack Obama. Barr wrote several letters in support of the project.

Dowell Hoskins Squire, Lexington’s environmental and public works commissioner, said the city recently released a bid for the design work for the 2 1/2-mile commons. A design firm will likely be selected sometime in late summer. Construction likely won’t begin until spring 2018.

Squire said the city had asked for $15.9 million but received $14.1 million. That leaves a potential gap of $1.8 million.

“The plan is for the mayor to request that $1.8 million in fiscal year 2018,” Squire said. The city has already set aside $10 million for the project.

Van Meter Pettit, president of Town Branch Trail Inc., a nonprofit that spearheaded efforts to start the Town Branch Trail, said Tuesday that he was “thrilled to death” the city secured the federal funding. When completed, the Town Branch and Legacy trails will make commuting to downtown by bike much safer.

“If this does what it’s supposed to do, it will fund a linkage from Masterson Station all the way to Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on Third Street,” Pettit said. “There are neighborhoods and commercial properties that are really going to have amazing access to downtown via bikes or walking. It will make bicycle commuting plausible.”