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Funding is sought for trails, bikeways

Area officials work with national group to get $50 million

Fort Wayne, Allen County and New Haven officials plan to lobby Congress for $50 million in transportation money to expand the local trail network, improve sidewalks and add bikeways.

Mayors Tom Henry of Fort Wayne and Terry McDonald of New Haven announced their effort along with 41 other communities across the country to bring more federal funding for such improvements. Their announcement Monday afternoon coincided with a news conference at the Capitol.

Fort Wayne, New Haven and Allen County are working with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national group that is spearheading lobby efforts ahead of Congress’ consideration of the 2010 federal transportation bill. Officials from the three local governments are working together to plead their case for the $50 million.

Henry called the federal money critical and encouraged residents who use the Rivergreenway and who want to bike safely to work downtown to contact their congressmen. He and McDonald touted the cooperation among the three local governments to go after the money together.

The $50 million could create hundreds of miles of sidewalks and trails locally. Planners hope to use some of that money for education and grants to businesses to help make them bike-friendly, said Dawn Ritchie, the city’s greenway manager.

Other communities involved include Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, Mich., Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago. Each city plans to ask for $50 million, Ritchie said.

Providing alternative modes of transportation can cut down on gasoline use and improve air quality and may become a greater focus in the next transportation bill. Trails and sidewalks can also connect people with Citilink, which already provides bike racks on its buses, she said.

Henry has heard from residents who would like to bike to work but find it difficult to navigate the busy roads downtown. He is proposing adding bike lanes adjacent to vehicle lanes in and around downtown. He’d also like to connect existing sidewalks to ensure that residents can get around the community, he said.

New Haven has been working for the past several years to add sidewalks in areas where there are none and to replace sidewalks and curbs following the city’s sewer separation project.

The city sought grant money to help pay to connect Fort Wayne and New Haven parks by extending the greenway, which McDonald called a dream come true. But alternate transportation routes will be key in the future, McDonald said.