A proposed rails-to-trails project will hopefully soon be underway, Carbon County officials report.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board opened bids for the county's 6,500-foot multi-use recreational trail, which will connect Lehigh Gorge State Park with downtown Jim Thorpe. The trail would begin at the county parking lot in Jim Thorpe and extend to the Nesquehoning trestle, where it would connect with the Lehigh Gorge State Park bike trail.

Prior to the opening of bids, Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, said the county has set a threshold of $331,000. The threshold, which is used to help analyze bids with alternate bids, is set at $331,000 because the county has a grant in that amount from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Base bids from the 11 construction companies who submitted a bid ranged from $288,000 to $459,240, with alternate bids for split rail fencing ranging from $20,299 to $30,640.

The apparent low bidder was S&K Construction of Tobyhanna, whose base bid and alternate bid totaled $319,140.

The bids will now be reviewed by county solicitor Michael Ozalas, who wasn't present at the meeting, to make sure a bid bond was attached, as well as Ted Otteni, project manager from CHA of King of Prussia, the company hired to oversee the project. A recommendation will then be given to the commissioners, who will either reject or award a contract at next Thursday's meeting.

Otteni explained that if a contract is awarded next week, work on clearing brush and preparing a path can probably begin on the trail in four weeks.

The rails-to-trails project has been in the works since 2005, but numerous hurdles shut down any progress that could be made, and continually pushed back the completion date.

Earlier this year, the county and Reading and Northern Railroad reached an agreement on plans for the trail. Specifications for the project call for the path to come off the Nesquehoning trestle and be six feet away from the railroad tracks in that area, and arch out 100 feet until it is 15 feet away the requirement specified by the railroad. A four-foot high fence will also be installed 12 feet from the center of the trail as a safety measure.

In August, the county purchased the last piece of needed land for the project from Frank Foster. Negotiations for that purchase have taken place since at least 2006.

In a related matter, the board also approved a proposal by CHA for supplemental design and support services relative to the rails-to-trails project. The vote amends an existing contract and changes the fees from $60,000 to $80,000.

The board also voted another proposal from CHA for construction observation/construction administration services for the project. This action amends an existing contract to incorporate the additional scope of work with an estimated fee not to exceed $18,500.