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October 28, 2012

City hoping for some good news on grants

GREENVILLE — City of Greenville officials are trying to obtain grant funds which would help complete the downtown streetscape project and upgrade a popular local walking trail.

The City Council voted last week to apply for two grants under the Statewide Transportation Enhancement Project (STEP).

If the city is approved, the grants would provide 80 percent of the construction costs on the two long anticipated projects.

The first would be an extension of the downtown streetscape.

“Because of inflation, we were not able to do the grant completely,” said Director of Public Works Massoud Ebrahim.

In January 2002, the City of Greenville received a $1.2 million grant from the Texas Transportation Commission to pay for bringing downtown sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), primarily along Lee Street between Market Square and the Katy Depot, as well as landscaping, pedestrian lights and street furniture.

Under the contract, the four blocks from Stonewall to King were included under original plans and specifications. Work on the last block, from King to Wright, only included enhancements such as street lighting, benches and trash receptacles. The first phase was completed in late 2007.

One of the other reasons the city was unable to complete the streetscape project was due to the discovery of an old gas line running under the downtown sidewalks.

“We used a lot of our resources on replacing that gas line,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim is hoping to obtain another $1 million in grant funding, with the city proving an almost $378,000 match, to add the streetscape to additional blocks of Lee, Johnson, Wesley and Gordon streets.

Ebrahim stressed that the grants are awarded based on how well the city scores on a grading system which takes into account various aspects in terms of the need for the work proposed, population demographics and more.

“It is on a points basis and a lot of other cities are trying for this type of project,” Ebrahim said.

The same is true about $421,000 in grant funding, with the city offering a match of approximately $158,000, for improvements along the Longbranch Trail.

Upgrading the Longbranch was included under the city’s 2008 Parks Master Plan, as the first leg of an overall walking/bike trail connecting the Ja-Lu Swimming Pool, the Greenville SportsPark, Graham Park and more.

“We see that as sort of our central hub for our trail system,” explained City Manager Steven Alexander.

Both project were submitted to the STEP in 2009, but were not accepted at that time.

“We are hoping in this round we will be successful,” Alexander added.

“It is going to take probably six to nine months to go through the process,” Ebrahim said.

The grant proposal calls for 4,500 linear feet of asphalt surfaced trail, between Moulton and King Streets, along with 15 lights.

“It is my recommendation that we use our fund balance to cover our share, or reprioritize items in the budget to cover our share,” Alexander said.

Ebrahim said the deadline to apply for this year’s program is November 16.

However, local resident John Kelso felt the matter was being rushed through too quickly.

“Where’s the public input on this? Where’s the citizen input?” Kelso asked. “This is a lot of money.”

Kelso suggested the money which would be dedicated for the match of the Longbranch Trail grant should instead be used to build a smaller, concrete trail.

“With some imagination that can tie two playgrounds together,” Kelso said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Dailey agreed.

“I haven’t looked into this enough,” Dailey said.

Ebrahim said the proposal was based on the concept drawn up years ago by the city Parks Board, adding his office only recently became aware of the availability of the grants.

“We don’t have a grant writer on our staff to look for grants 24-7,” Ebrahim said. “If we knew about it six months ago, we would have come to you.”

Ebrahim said the grant proposal was drafted to attain as many points as possible, and was designed to provide a pedestrian connecting route between the parks, the W. Walworth Harrison Public Library, the Greenville YMCA and more.

As such, Ebrahim recommended the proposal remain as written.

“You could lose points and ... you are going to be at the bottom of the list,” Ebrahim said. “It is very, very complicated.”

Council member Dan Perkins said the grant funds could help pay for new pedestrian bridges along the Longbranch.

“Those bridges are outdated,” Perkins said. “They are rickety and shaky and they need to be replaced.”

Council member Renee Francey said the trail still gets a lot of traffic.

“I use it,” Francey said.

“It just seems like something we are getting quite a deal on,” Perkins said of the availability of the grant funding, before making a motion to approve the application, which Francey seconded.

The measure passed on a 6-1 vote, with Dailey against.

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