Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MCRP makes pitch for Mill Creek trail funds

The Mill Creek Restoration Project (MCRP) hosted a driving tour of the Queen City-South Mill Creek Greenway Trail in the hopes of securing $1.5 million in state capital funding.

State Senator Eric Kearney (D-9th) and State Representative Denise Driehaus (D-31st) joined MCRP staff, Cincinnati Department of Planning and Buildings director Charles C. Graves III, and representatives from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and several Mill Creek communities for a look at several portions that have already been completed, including the Laughing Brook wetlands and a recently planted grove of Freedom Trees.

A $500,000 investment by the state in the years 2010-2012 would pay one-quarter of the cost of the 3.4-mile segment between Mitchell Avenue and the Mill Creek Road bridge and would leverage $2.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A half-mile segment between Cosby Street and Crawford Avenue in Northside has already been completed.

"It's a very exciting program," said MCRP executive director Robin Corathers. "This is a very urban piece of the trail. It's high visibility. It's a legacy program. It's a major public works project."


The entire 13.5-mile trail, extending from the Hamilton County Fairgrounds to Cincinnati Riverfront Park and expected to cost at least $24 million, is envisioned as a safe, off-road alternative for transportation, recreation, and exercise. It would connect to existing public transit, on-street bike lanes, and pedestrian routes.

The full length could take five years to complete, and the completion of the Queen City-South Mill Creek segment is seen as key to getting the remainder funded.

"This project has a lot of momentum," Corathers said. "There's a lot of synergy going now."

This synergy includes the I-75 reconstruction, the Revive I-75 planning initiative, MSD's work to mitigate combined sewer overflows, and the City's bicycle master plan.

Corathers said that much of the MCRP's work includes habitat restoration and stream bank stabilization, stormwater management, and education and training.

Right now, the corridor has the lowest percentage of tree canopy in the City of Cincinnati. And what was once 300 miles of streams in the lower Mill Creek valley has been reduced to 75 miles, the majority of the streams now acting as sewers.

"It's not just a trail," Corathers said. "It's going to have green stuff in it, which means that we're going to reforest the whole river corridor."

A catalyst for development, jobs

Until recently, the public has not had access to the Mill Creek – they were greeted by a high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

The Mill Creek Valley Conservancy District, local sponsor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, relented, opening up the whole corridor as a catalyst for development.

A recent study by the University of Cincinnati Applied Economics Research Institute estimated that the 13.5-mile trail would create at least 445 jobs and create an economic impact of $52.18 million within the metropolitan area, generating $1.86 million in local tax revenue.

Tim Jeckering, president of the Northside Community Council, said that the trail is a key part of the Northside Land Use Plan, adopted by City Council in 2006.

"The trail here along the Mill Creek here ties in directly into the development of what we call 'Downtown Northside'," he said. "Key components and key things that are in motion are happening in Northside right now."

Corathers pointed out that the American Can Building, soon to be developed into market-rate apartments and commercial space, is only one block away from the trail.

"So, as we improve the appearance of the river corridor, American Can is going to really take off," she said. "They're going to be able to get higher rents, they're going to be able to offer this amenity. It's going to make their project more marketable."

In Jeckering's opinion, there is no better way to spend federal stimulus money than on projects that come from the community, for the community.

Northside Community Council meetings regularly have attendance of 75 people or more, he said.

"If there is stimulus money out there for good, community-based projects, I would hope this would qualify for those," Jeckering said. "Because the Land Use Plan was completely community-driven. When we approached the City at the time, they didn't have the funding for doing land use plans. We did it ourselves. It's a community that's very involved and very active."

Improving connectivity

The entire watershed extends approximately 28 miles from its headwaters in Butler County.

So far, 14 suburban communities have contacted MCRP about linking to the trail.

To Corathers, it's all about connecting all of these communities along the region's original superhighway.

"Mill Creek was here before I-75," she said. "It's not the I-75 corridor, it's the Mill Creek Corridor!"

Previous reading on BC:
Mill Creek greenway project wins $500K grant (10/12/09)
Report: Mill Creek trail could create 445 jobs, $52 million economic impact (9/8/09)