A project Clintonville Area Commission member David Vottero once described as a "one-in-a-generation opportunity" is moving closer to reality.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission on Dec. 18 released a list of proposed new transportation projects around central Ohio that could receive federal funding. That list included nearly $3.5 million to close the Clintonville gap in the Olentangy Trail and to build a pair of bridges to connect it to a trail across the Olentangy River.

The project was proposed by Columbus Recreation and Parks Department officials and the grant would be the amount requested, said Brian J. Hoyt, communications and marketing manager.

MORPC officials are seeking public comment on all eight recommended projects proposed for $21 million in federal funding through Jan. 18.

Those projects range from $11 million for improvements to the city's traffic-signal system to nearly $900,000 for upgrades to a pair of Northland intersections.

The full list is available at tinyurl.com/morpcprojects. Comments may be sent to tip@morpc.org by Jan. 18.

Five bike and pedestrian projects are among those proposed for this round of funding, but the Olentangy Trail project seems to offer the most bang for the buck, said Nick Gill, MORPC's assistant director for transportation.

"The fact that it does close that gap on perhaps the most heavily used trail was one of the big factors," he said. "Crossing the barrier of the river with that project was a big plus."

The half-mile gap in the 13-mile trail that stretches from Worthington Hills to downtown Columbus is between Northmoor and Clinton-Como parks, and pedestrians and cyclists must use surface streets, crossing busy West North Broadway at Milton Avenue.

"Some sections of that street are 11 to 12 feet wide, and you're sharing that with roadway traffic, cars and trucks," said Brad Westall, the city's greenways planner. "It's a major safety improvement and also creates a new way to connect to the other side of the Olentangy River.

"Thousands of people were never able to get to the Olentangy Trail safely."

"We figured it also might give the most possibilities of reducing vehicle travel," Gill said. "It does serve a fairly high employment area of the OhioHealth complex and the hospital itself, and the medical offices around it."

The project would include two bridges over the Olentangy River: one just south of Northmoor Park, the other connecting Clinton-Como Park to an area near the parking lot of the Kohl's store off Olentangy River Road.

The two bridges would account for roughly two-thirds of the money offered by MORPC, with trails and ramps taking the rest, Westall said.

"It's not all designed yet," he said.

"It's more than a concept, but there aren't plans and they haven't done the environmental work for the project," Gill said.

Westall said the trail's new crossing of North Broadway, west of the Olentangy River at the new OhioHealth Boulevard, would be a "substantial upgrade" from the current crossing at Milton Avenue.

He said not only will it feature a wide ramp and new signals, but it will be separated from the road, eliminating the need for cyclists to "jostle for space" with vehicles.

Westall said a study determined there was not enough clearance under the North Broadway bridge for a trail underpass, but such an underpass would be part of any plans to replace the bridge in the future.

Will Koehler, a bicycling advocate and member of the Clintonville Area Commission's planning-and-development committee, said he was glad work on the trail is moving forward.

"This is a really important connection because it gets people on bikes across the river at North Broadway, and basically there's no safe way to cross there now," Koehler said. "It's a vital connection, and I'm really happy to see it."

Though the comment period continues through Jan. 18 and members of the MORPC advisory committee will review any comments received on what city personnel have dubbed "The Final Gap," Gill said, original recommendations tend to be retained.

"The list rarely changes from what's out there as a draft," he said.

As for when the gap-closing work could begin, Westall estimated the design process would get underway at the end of the year with construction in 2022. Gill, however, cautioned that the money may not actually be available until 2024.

Regardless, Hoyt said, residents would have ample opportunity to weigh in on aspects of the project well before construction begins.

"They're going to get plenty of chances to look at this and comment," he said. "This is part of the bigger picture."