- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Phases two and three of the Yankton’s trail system expansion project are in motion.

Last fall, the city applied for its first Transportation Alternative Program grant, which was approved for $400,000 toward phase 1. Recently, the city applied for two more of these grants by combining an application for phases two and three on a recommendation from the state.

“We have already received one grant award,” said city manager Amy Nelson. “It makes economic sense to bid a multiphase project all at once.”

The applications for phases two and three were due to the state Sept. 30. Now, commissioners are waiting to hear if Yankton made the final cut to present its grant application in Pierre. Administration hopes to hear back from the state sometime in October or early November.

The city’s hope is to be approved for phases two and three as quickly as possible and then combine all the phases of grant money into one, major construction project, the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan (https://bit.ly/1MZWAoE ) reported.

“We can bring in equipment and do the work on site one time versus doing something, leaving and then coming back for phase two,” said Parks and Recreation director Todd Larson. “It depends on how fast the state will push through phase one and how we come out on phases two and three.”

Phase one involves connecting the Walmart drive way along Highway 50 with West City Limits Drive. Phase two will head south on West City Limits Road and go toward Benedict Drive. Phase three will follow from Benedict Drive farther south, going past the dog park, up the hill, and to the school administration building.

There would be a connection made through the parking lot of the dog park/community garden trail that runs along Marine Creek and comes out by 23rd Street.

There are several reasons for the city’s invested interest in this trail system expansion.

The first is because of the two busy roadways - Highway 50 and West City Limits Road. After a certain point west of Walmart, the sidewalk runs out and people have had to resort to the highway’s gutter or the curb line, which is not recommended.

“There isn’t an easy way for pedestrians or people on bikes to access the commercial or residential area,” Nelson said. “If we are looking to encourage people to walk or bike, we need to have safe places for them to do so.”

Another reason for the city’s trail expansion is the growing population on the west side of town, including the upcoming addition of Westbrook Estates.

“People like to see sidewalks along Highway 50 because of the foot traffic and bicycle traffic,” Larson said. “It was a connection that needed to be made, sooner rather than later, because of all the development going on west.”

The city’s representatives are confident that, because of the community need, the state will approve grants for both of the final phases.

“The state wants to see people walking and biking,” Larson said. “That helps their infrastructure of highways and bridges last longer because there is less use of it. We as the city like to see it, too, from a health stand point.”

Since grant money has already been approved and designs for the project have begun, there is no rush on completing phase one until the city is informed on the outcome of phases two and three.

“That might hold back our first phase a little bit, but we might be further ahead and get more ‘bang for our buck’ by bidding out all the phases at once,” Nelson said. “But the first step is really seeing what we are awarded and then making those decisions at that time.”

If the city is not awarded grant funding for phases two and three, phase one will be constructed individually. The other two phases will be applied for in the next grant cycle.

“Eventually, this is a project we want to get done with or without grant funding,” Nelson said. “But if we can leverage grant funds, of course, that is all for the better.”

Each grant sought has been less than the $400,000 maximum, so the city could match a higher amount of 30 percent of grant money awarded. The goal is to get to the $800,000 - $900,000 range, which is what it would take to complete both phase two and three.

“The more matches you have, the more you are able to show a local investment in the project and the more competitive your allocation is,” Nelson said.

The minimum match of a TAP grant is 18.4 percent. After the city had a 20 percent match on phase one’s grant, administrators hope the increased match on grants for phase two and three will encourage the state to see the local dedication to the project.

Since phase two and three were applied for together, if the city receives funding for phase two and not phase three, the city will pay for phase two, the 30 percent match, and all of phase 3 in order to get it on the books and complete the project.

“That way, when we go back to the state in the future for other trails, we have evidence to say we have applied for trail grants before, you granted us funds for part of them and we finished those projects,” Larson said.

City officials are currently awaiting approval on some last-minute agreements from the state for phase one. After these are approved, Larson thinks it should be easier to fast-track approvals for agreements on phases two and three.

The city has also taken advice from the state on the most effective ways to move forward. Yankton has had the money for the railroad underpass connection - north of West 15th Street - and has been working at completing construction.

“We heard from the state that as long as we had that money sitting in the bank, until we get that project done, they were not going to look favorably on us applying for more trail funds,” Larson said.

Larson believes that by the end of this fall, the railroad underpass project will be completed and the city can successfully apply for more grants.

Part of what made Yankton’s grant applications so successful are the letters of support from community members. City staff reached out to people who utilized trails and sidewalks in the neighborhood, and they voiced their support by providing positive feedback on the project plans.

“That really helped so it’s not just the local commissioners or staff saying we need grant money,” Nelson said. “It is people in the community talking directly to the state and saying this is something we use and we value. We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping the state sees that same value in the project that we do.”

Because the city is awaiting approval of all three phases before beginning the project, officials don’t foresee construction happening until early 2016 or, more realistically, 2017, and they hope to get things wrapped up in one construction season.


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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