Close that gap!

At their Aug. 2 meeting, Clintonville Area Commission members strongly urged officials with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to help fund a project that would fill in the last remaining section of the exceedingly popular Olentangy Trail.

In what was originally billed as a resolution but which turned out to be more of a letter, the CAC implored MORPC Director William Murdoch to approve a grant that would go a long way toward addressing what local bicycling advocates have felt for years was a missing piece of the puzzle.

The trail, which runs from Worthington Hills to downtown Columbus, briefly forces riders onto surface streets in Clintonville, crossing over the busy North Broadway at Milton Avenue.

After the letter was approved by all eight area commission members present for the August session, Chairwoman Libby Wetherholt added that Brad Westall, greenways planner for the city of Columbus, had advised her to have others who want to see the gap filled in to write to MORPC.

"This is a high-priority project for our community's health, safety and welfare, and we appreciate MORPC's consideration of the application," the letter concludes.

"I think it's a well-written letter," District 1 representative David Vottero said.

In March, Vottero called closing the Olentangy Trail gap as part of the nearby OhioHealth headquarters consolidation project a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity.

A map of a proposed solution posted last week by the commission shows a trail spanning the Olentangy River from Northmoor Park, then crossing North Broadway at Olentangy River Road. The trail would continue south through the OhioHealth property and return to the east side of the river via a bridge near the parking lot of the Kohl's store.

The map notes there would be safety improvements at the at-grade crossing of North Broadway.

District 4 representative Judy Minister said the deadline for the grant from MORPC was Monday, Aug. 13. She said that grant would cover 65 percent of the overall project cost, and that the earliest construction could begin was 2022.

After consulting with Westall, Recreation and Parks Communications and Marketing Manager Brian J. Hoyt indicated that Minister was correct about the deadline, but he noted that engineering work on the estimated $4.1 million project could begin as soon as next year.

"This project will complete the region's heaviest-used trail corridor," the CAC letter states. "Over 400,000 people each year pass by the West North Broadway-Milton area as they recreate, travel to jobs, to school, OSU and all of the splendid parks along the Olentangy Trail.

"The trail's 'work-around,' using Kenworth, Milton, Delhi and Riverside Drive is not safe for the capacity of runners, walkers, cyclists, rollers and especially families who navigate around the gap in the trail."

"This is a huge benefit," said Will Koehler, a Clintonville resident and local bicycling advocate.

More than just closing the final gap, in Koehler's view, the project would create connectivity between parts of the city that has been denied to people who prefer walking or riding bikes to driving.

"Everyone has been talking about how it closes the last remaining gap," he said. "The main benefit that I see is that it provides a way across the river that's not currently available. It provides a critical link across the river at the point.

"There's no way currently safely to get from Clintonville to the hospital or any of that shopping on Olentangy River Road. It will allow more people to bike to jobs there and provide more opportunity to have active transportation.

"It's much bigger than the trail itself."