A gap in the Olentangy Trail that has vexed central Ohio cyclists for years should be filled, eventually, though construction is years away.

Preliminary work to bridge the Clintonville gap in the trail – which runs from Worthington Hills south to downtown Columbus – is set to begin later this year, according to city leaders.

Stephanie Leis, marketing and communications manager for the city, said the planned trail extension would close the gap that forces cyclists to share surface streets with motor vehicles between Northmoor and Clinton-Como parks in Clintonville.

The off-trail section includes a signalized crossing of busy West North Broadway at Milton Avenue.

Leis said the design process would involve lots of “public outreach to see exactly what people would want in a trail.”

Clintonville Area Commission member David Vottero said the commission and residents are eager to see the project move forward.

In January 2018, the commission voted 8-0 to send a letter to OhioHealth and city officials, urging that an extension of the Olentangy Trail to close the gap be part of the $40 million in infrastructure improvements connected with the construction of the OhioHealth David P. Blom Administrative Campus, off North Broadway just east of state Route 315.

“It’s always been our understanding that it will take awhile for it to move forward,” Vottero said.

He said the commission always has been concerned about the crossing at North Broadway and the safety of residents at the busy intersection.

In December 2018, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission 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 Olentangy Trail gap and to build a pair of bridges to connect it to a trail across the Olentangy River.

A proposed plan calls for the trail to cross to the west side of the river at Northmoor Park, crossing North Broadway at the new OhioHealth Boulevard, and continuing south through the Blom campus and east of the Kohl’s store before spanning the river again at Clinton-Como Park.

Brad Westall, the city’s greenways planner, previously said the new crossing of North Broadway would be a “substantial upgrade” from the crossing at Milton Avenue.

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

However, cyclists will have to keep jostling for at least another three years.

Leis said construction for the project tentatively is set for 2023.

Will Koehler, a cycling advocate and Clintonville resident, said the project to fill in the trail gap is important.

“It’s obviously kind of the last piece of the connection,” he said.

Koehler said his only concern with the project is the potential for the North Broadway intersection at Milton Avenue – which has been made more bike-friendly with special lanes and pavement markings – to degrade after bike traffic decreases at the intersection from trail use.

“It kind of puts a dark cloud over a nice project,” he said.