Carbon County applies for $2M grant
Carbon County is applying for $2 million to help cover the cost of a pedestrian bridge in Jim Thorpe.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board approved the submission of an application for a Transportation Alternatives Program grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on behalf of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor for the pedestrian bridge project.
The proposed bridge would be located off Route 209 across from Turkey Hill in Jim Thorpe and cross the Lehigh River. This bridge would connect the trail, which right now ends at the end of the county parking lot, and picks up again on the other side of the Lehigh River.
Commissioner William O'Gurek said the reason for the application is because the state pulled the original $1.7 million grant that was earmarked for the project to other uses in the state.
Other projects throughout the state were also affected by the decision to pull grants that were already awarded.
Under the new transportation bill, money is now available for alternative transportation sources, such as trails, but nonprofit organizations like the D&L National Heritage Corridor, aren't eligible to apply so the county has become the project sponsor.
"It's a heck of a thing that the project was funded five or six years ago and engineered and ready to go and almost ready to go to bid and then they yank the money out," O'Gurek said. "What if there wasn't an alternate source of money?"
Scott Everett, D&L Trail manager, said the grant is a reimbursable grant, meaning that the county would provide the funding up front and would then be reimbursed. A $1 million grant has also already been secured and will be used as the match for this grant.
Everett added that if successful, the timeline for the project would be hopefully in 2015 for bidding and construction.
One thing the groups need to take into consideration is the river's recreation use.
Everett said because of this, the bridge construction would likely begin in either in late fall or early spring, but an exact timeline has not been determined.
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said that this portion of the D&L trail project is the largest, topping out at over $3 million with construction and engineering costs.
It is the last of three sections in the county that needs to be completed. The other two portions include the Lehighton trailhead, which will be officially dedicated following Leadership Carbon's Earth Day 5K Hippy Run/Walk on April 26; and the Bowmanstown crossing over Route 895, which, according to Nothstein, should be resolved shortly.
"I can honestly say that Carbon County will be the first county to complete the entire length of trail through the county out of the five counties," Everett said.
He added that Jim Thorpe also was successful at receiving gaming funds and a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant for the construction of the trail from the exit of the bridge to the area where it would link up to the already completed trail in Weissport.
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard noted that through conversations with Elissa Garofalo earlier this week, the county learned that over 300,000 people used the trail in 2013.
"That's a pretty impressive number," he said.
Gerhard explained that the county, which will own the bridge after its completion, will not open it for emergency personnel or vehicle traffic.
Nothstein added that the county plans to use the parking lot fund to cover expenses for the bridge.
"I fully intend to take expenses (maintenance, inspections, etc.) out of the parking lot fund to maintain that bridge," he said.
O'Gurek added that the commissioners can also use hotel tax money if needed to cover expenses of the bridge after it is completed.
"If needed, we will use hotel tax money because it enhances tourism that attracts people into the county," he said.
"We don't expect down the road to use any taxpayer money to do anything out there with regard to the bridge."