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Cost of Planned Sidewalk Project Triples, Now Cities Need County's Help

Three local governments may be coming together to install a sidewalk/multi-use path project on what is colloquially known as "Short" Amsterdam Road, the portion of Amsterdam that runs between its intersections with Highwater and Bromley-Crescent Springs roads.

At a recent Kenton County Fiscal Court meeting, County Administrator Joe Shriver explained that three years ago, the county was approached by the City of Crescent Springs about funding the project together, along with the City of Villa Hills.

After one failed attempt at winning grant funds, the county received a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant awarded through the state for $850,000 in 2018, which was expected to cover the cost of installing sidewalks on Short Amsterdam.

But the price tag skyrocketed after an engineer evaluated the site, Shriver said, determining that the road suffered from serious slips and that fortification would be needed to combat that, as well as damage from the ephemeral stream that flows below in heavy rain.

The estimated cost rose from $850,000 to $2.4 million.

The project could be significant, though, Shriver said because it's the last remaining section of Amsterdam in that area without sidewalks, and with the project completed, an entire part of the community would be accessible to pedestrians.

"You've got Anderson Road with sidewalks, Collins, Buttermilk, other parts of Amsterdam (with sidewalks), so getting an eight-foot multi-use path on Short Amsterdam, people will be able to fully walk, or ride, or jog all throughout those cities," Shriver said.

But the price tag is too steep for both of the cities involved, and the grant only covers a third of the overall cost.

So, a different approach would be needed.

"The cities, after they stopped choking on the fact that the number tripled, they started looking at this as the last loop in closing walkability," Shriver said. 

The county administration decided to tackle the price through a new calculation in an effort to help the cities: since the original grant was to represent 80 percent payment by the federal government and the remaining 20 percent through a local match, Shriver said they took 20 percent of $2.4 million, came to $480,000, divided by the three governments involved, and concluded that Crescent Springs and Villa Hills should pay $160,000 each. The county would then seek additional funding from the state.

The county had already budgeted for the entire $2.4 million, Shriver said, though, "We don't think we're going to be able to break ground for about two years."

But even at $160,000, the cities would be stretched, so they are asking to pay in installments. "Given the federal dollars, we would ask for a resolution to support the project up to $160,000 so that we can then pursue additional funds from the state," Shriver told the fiscal court members. "If we don't get the money from the state, we're not on the hook for anything."

Meanwhile, the resolution would open up the possibility that the cities could pay their share over four years.

The fiscal court approved the resolution, though not without concerns. And Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann did not participate in the discussion because he lives near the impacted area. 

The cities support the idea.

"The Villa Hills council has discussed the increase in cost at a recent meeting and is still weighing the project’s pros and cons," said Villa Hills Mayor Heather Jansen, in a statement to The River City News. "The change from the initial cost estimate is concerning because, like everyone else, we have limited funds for which nearly all are designated.  

"However, we cannot overlook the availability of the TAP grant as well as the opportunity to collaborate with other jurisdictions on a project that would close the local sidewalk loop, further connect adjacent communities, and also stabilize a road with the potential for future slippage. I anticipate a decision from the Villa Hills Council to be made no later than the end of October."

Villa Hills city council met Wednesday in special session to discuss the issue but no official action was taken.

"The Crescent Springs city staff agrees with Kenton County Fiscal Court views that this as a very strong project for the area that completes pedestrian connectability for residents in Crescent Springs, Villa Hills, and Kenton County," said Crescent Springs City Administrator Mike Daly, in a statement to The River City News. "The project will dramatically improve slope stability along the creek side of the Amsterdam roadway which will help to diminish the risk of future slides along Amsterdam Road where future potential liability may far exceed our respective local matches for this sidewalk project currently.

"With this said, nothing has been decided yet at a Crescent Springs Council meeting by council members on whether to participate or not with the Amsterdam Road Sidewalk project."

Shriver said that buy-in from the cities is something the state would want to see. "We have to tell them yes, we are still committed at the higher amount and then we can proceed with the project," he said.

Shriver also said that Sanitation District 1 will be approached about participating in the project, too, to help address concerns over the ephemeral stream.

County Commissioner Joe Nienaber initially expressed hesitation about the resolution in support of the cities, reminding the fiscal court about a similar effort in helping the City of Lakeside Park with a project on Turkeyfoot Road.

"I said as soon as we do this (Turkeyfoot project), we are going to be invited to do this in projects all over," Nienaber said. But, as a former mayor of Fort Wright, he knows how small these cities' road budgets are. In fact, Shriver said that $160,000 would be more than their annual repaving budgets.

And, Shriver said, if there are delays in addressing the slippage at Short Amsterdam, ultimately the costs could go even higher.

"My guess is, we're probably looking at five years payback on it," Nienaber said.

Ultimately, Nienaber made the motion to proceed with the proposal, with an agreement not to exceed a 4-year payment with details to be worked out later. He and Commissioners Beth Sewell and Jon Draud voted in favor with Knochelmann not voting.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photos by Connor Wall, associate editor