Vote changes Middletown-Franklin bike path project

A recent vote by Middletown City Council to provide a portion of the funding for a joint project with the city of Franklin to connect the bike path may have hit a road bump for regional cooperation.

Franklin and Middletown officials had worked out a deal to jointly apply for funding to complete the final 1.4-mile section of the bike path between the two cities in 2020. The last section, nicknamed the “great connection,” is another piece of the Great Miami River Trail bike path that goes through several counties.

The project is estimated to cost $1.7 million of which $1.3 million or 80 percent of the construction costs is expected to be covered through a federal transportation grant obtained through the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission. The 20 percent balance would be covered by both cities is also based on the trail’s footage in each jurisdiction — Franklin covering 60 percent of the costs and Middletown covering the other 40 percent. Franklin would be the lead community for the grant.

According to a staff report to City Manager Doug Adkins, the local match would be about $340,000 of which Middletown’s share would be about $136,000.

At its Sept. 16 meeting, Middletown City Council approved an emergency ordinance to authorize the agreement with Franklin to construct the project and to submit a funding application the MVRPC by the Oct. 9 deadline. If awarded, the funding would become available in 2020. In addition to applying for the funding from the MVRPC, Franklin would also be the entity to handle the bidding and contracting for the project.

A provision of the ordinance caps Middletown’s portion of the required local match at $150,000.

That cap has Franklin officials concerned that if the costs are higher than expected, they’ll be stuck holding the bag. So much so that Franklin City Council will consider going forward without Middletown and only doing its portion of the bike trail.

Franklin City Manager Sonny Lewis said it’s “a philosophical disagreement” for him as he was unaware of a cap being placed on Middletown’s portion.

“I don’t know what the thought process was, but I’m not willing to put the city on the hook for more money,” Lewis said.

He said Adkins notified him of Middletown council’s decision to place a cap on its portion. Lewis said he respects Middletown’s wishes to do that.

Lewis said the chances of receiving the grant are greater with Middletown as a partner and said Franklin may apply for the grant on its own and thinks council will support it.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t work together on it,” he said. “The city doesn’t have any hard feelings against Middletown.”

He said the revised estimated cost of the project for Franklin would be about $1.1 million with Franklin’s 20 percent local match estimated at $220,000.

Lewis said he hopes Middletown considers applying for funding through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Council of Governments to complete their portion of the bike path.

Franklin council will consider moving ahead without Middletown at its meeting on Monday

Adkins said even with the cap, there is some extra funding to cover possible overruns.

“(Middletown) Council as a rule doesn’t like open-ended agreements without a dollar amount defined,” Adkins said. “I think that’s a good policy.”