Study shows gaps in Plymouth’s trails and funding
Plymouth City Council held a special meeting Nov. 27 to discuss the growing dilemma of inconsistencies in the city’s trail system and resulting funding issues.
Plymouth has approximately 145 miles of paved trails and sidewalks. Of those, the city owns and maintains about 130 miles and the remaining belongs to the state and county.
The problem rests in the gaps within the system. In a trail gap study conducted by the city, 90 areas were identified where trails failed to connect, making usage difficult and inconvenient.
The 90 gaps total roughly 60 miles of missing trail that, ideally, the city would like to see connected. Director of Parks and Recreation Diane Evans and Deputy Director Barb Northway say “connections must be made to ultimately provide trail loops and better access to schools, parks, transit facilities and other destinations.”
Traditional the city has begun the process by requiring new development to help. Plymouth will offer developers the chance to build trails alongside residential, road or other projects and in turn reimburse the cost.
Within the years 2013-2016, Evans said that 7.5 miles of new trail could be completed in conjunction with new road projects.
Plymouth’s Capital Improvement Program outlines $330,000 for maintenance and repair funding in the Park Replacement Fund over the next four years ranging from $75,000 to $90,000 annually.
With the completion of a Park Replacement Fund study, city staff anticipates allocating around $200,000 per year for repair and replacement beginning in 2014 in order to maintain the trail network.
The anticipated amount would provide two to four miles of maintenance a year, while the current amount in the CIP only allows staff to repair less than one mile a year.
Staff work with the Park and Recreation Advisory Commission to identify 33 priority trail gaps considered to be most significant based on safety concerns, user requests and locations that show high usage.
While the trail gap study doesn’t change anything within the city’s budget, staff composed it to get the most bang for city bucks.
“The goal is to prioritize [the gaps],” Evans said. “We want to start planning, costing out and budgeting to be more successful in getting the gaps completed.”
Ward 4 Councilmember Ginny Black called attention to the fact that as funding currently stands in the CIP, if the rate of trail repair is roughly one mile a year and the city is responsible for 131 miles of trail, the timeline to keep all the trails up is 131 years. Black questioned as to whether there was a plan to wait on filling trail gaps and deal with the maintenance issue.
“This is a problem, and we’re still putting [new] trails in,” Black said. “Maintenance is maybe the biggest piece of this and we have some significant financial shortfalls.”
Evans said that staff is also working on a trail management program to map and prioritize repairs.
“Council has looked at the park replacement fund and we have been making a concerted effort to increase it,” said City Manager Laurie Ahrens.
Ahrens continued to make the point that not only trails face funding issues. The entire parks system is being reevaluated to manage priorities and allocate money effectively over the next 50 years.
Aside from the park replacement fund, the city also has a park dedication fund, which receives money from all new development in Plymouth. Evans said that the city gets $6,500 per new unit for that fund. While the dedication fund can be used to fund trail gap projects, only the money from the replacement fund is used for repairs.
Evans said that through working with Administrative Services Director Dave Callister, it’s possible to raise the replacement fund to the desired $200,000 to repair trails without depleting it.
Concerns were raised about the citywide problem of a number of expensive projects vying for large amounts of money.
“I just want to be very conscientious about [agreeing to this increase],” said Ward 1 Councilmember Judy Johnson. “Eventually the council is going to have to either cut other things out or increase the levy. This is just trails, but we have roads [and other major projects]. These are early indications that it’s going to get harder and harder to hold the levy at zero.”
The council made no definitive decision on funding for the trail gaps or maintenance, but recognized that prioritization must be done across the board to keep the budget in check.