Judging by responses on social media, many people want what the city of Dayton wants: To see an unused rail line near downtown transformed into an elevated bike trail and public park.
But even if the city is able to negotiate a deal to buy the rail line from owner Northfolk Southern — perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the project — it could still take years before a park and recreational trail is completed.
The project remains in the visionary stages and would require grant funding to acquire of the rail line and construct a new bike path and park, said Jon White, city of Dayton planner.
The construction alone is expected to cost millions of dollars.
“We are very early in the process of this: This is something the planning department is pursuing, but there are a lot of hurdles to jump still,” White said.
At their last meeting, Dayton city commissioners approved a contract for $29,000 to appraise a rail line that Norfolk Southern owns but is seeking to abandon.
The 6.5-mile track starts just east of the former site of Garden Station, near the Oregon Historic District, and travels southeast before snaking down to the Tenneco facility in Kettering.
The city is getting an appraisal to aid its negotiations with Norfolk Southern for the purchase of the line. A previous appraisal of the track by the city estimated it was worth about $730,000.
If the line was converted into a recreation trail, it would help expand the local bike path system, as well as the city’s bike-share program, into Dayton’s eastern neighborhoods, providing both new leisure and transportation options for residents, White said.
The rail line runs along an elevated track for multiple blocks from Garden Station, which would provide exceptional views of downtown and other sections of the city, officials said.
If the project succeeds, Dayton would join the likes of New York City and Chicago, whose high-line recreation paths are wildly popular destinations for tourists and residents.
The project has a lot of community support, but acquiring the line and transforming it could be a lengthy process, likely taking years, said Brian Inderrieden, acting director of Dayton’s department of planning and community development.
The city likely would seek funding through the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, Clean Ohio, state grant programs and other sources.
“We do think this is a huge opportunity and it’s a great project, but it’s going to take some time to assemble grants and put everything together,” Inderrieden said.
It’s unclear whether the city would seek to convert the line into a park, bike trail or both.
The project is currently on the 2040 Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Long Range Transportation Plan, called the Creekside Trail Connector, which makes it eligible for federal funding, said Brian Martin, executive director of the planning commission.
The proposed Norfolk Southern segment connects the Creekside Trail in east Dayton with the Wolf Creek trail and the Great Miami River trail.
But MVRPC’s funding commitments are determined years ahead of actual construction. For instance, MVRPC later this year will ask for applications for funding available in 2023 and 2024.
The city of Dayton would have to sponsor the project and provide a 20 percent local match to receive federal support.