County gets $1 million to develop interurban trail

By Steve Sharp

JEFFERSON -- Jefferson County continues to progress in its creation of attractive recreational alternatives for residents and visitors with the announcement today it will receive $1,102,840 to put toward development of the interurban bike/pedestrian trail from Watertown to Oconomowoc.

The ultimate goal is to link Watertown bicyclists with the Milwaukee lakefront.
"Awesome," said Mary Nimm of the Jefferson County Parks Department when she was informed of the grant this morning. Jefferson County Parks Department Director Joe Nehmer stepped out of a meeting to talk with the Daily Times on the matter.

"This makes our morning," he said. "I guess the third time is the charm, because we have sought this grant two times before."

Gov. Scott Walker announced 29 agencies across the state will receive $15.7 million in funding for Transportation Alternative Program projects. TAP projects are federally-funded, smaller scale transportation projects that have a utilitarian purpose. They expand travel choice, strengthen the local economy, improve the quality of life, as well as protect the environment.

"It's important that both urban and rural residents have safe options to get to school and work," Walker said. "This program enhances public mobility, economic development and the overall quality of life for our citizens."

Nehmer said the grant money will be used by the county to construct the trail from River Road to County Highway F, a span of 4.7 miles.

"We have been in contact with the state Department of Transportation, but we were not sure we would be receiving this grant and it is a very good surprise this morning," Nehmer said.

The county is currently in the process of preparing to place three different spans of bridging over the Rock River near the Concord Generating Station that will be part of the interurban trail. Nehmer said these spans will be delivered no later than Nov. 12 and the bridge should be erected prior to Dec. 31.

"But Mother Nature plays a role in projects like this, so we are hoping to have things in place by the end of the year, but you never know," Nehmer said.

Nehmer said, in a perfect world in which the county could "just cut a check for $5 million," the interurban trail might already be complete, but the world is not perfect, he said. Therefore, patience is needed as the county applies for grants to fund the work.

"We are largely dependant on grant funding and anyone who has ever tried to create a recreational trail will tell you that it takes multiple years and not multiple months to build something like this," he said. "We just don't have the immediate resources to do this."

Examples of eligible TAP infrastructure projects also include sidewalks, pedestrian amenities and wayfinding, bike lanes, bike parking, and bike share systems (capital costs, not operating costs), all meant to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Examples of TAP non-infrastructure projects include Safe Routes to School programs and citywide, districtwide or school specific bike/pedestrian plans.

TAP projects are generally funded 80 percent federally, with a 20 percent local match. Other individual awards can be seen at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website. Jefferson County was, by far, one of the largest recipients in the recent grant process, with only Milwaukee County ahead with a $2 million grant for use in its historic Lake Park Ravine Bridge replacement.