East Dayton rails-to-trails Flight Line project funding is up in the air

Dayton’s multiyear pursuit of an out-of-service rail line that it wants to turn into a new multi-use recreational trail faces what could be a pivotal moment.

The city of Dayton requested $1.5 million to $2 million in federal funding to help purchase a 6.5-mile vacated track that belongs to Norfolk Southern and stretches roughly from an area just east of the Oregon District to Delco Park in Kettering.

The project has been recommended to receive a $1.5 million or a $2 million federal earmark, but it’s unclear whether Congress will be able to pass an omnibus budget bill this year.

If a bill does not pass, and this federal funding falls through, it’s unlikely the city will be able to acquire the rail line in the next year or so, said Susan Vincent, a city of Dayton planner.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Dayton wants to acquire the blighted rail line to convert it into a recreational trail called the “Flight Line,” which would be similar to popular multiuse trails in major cities like New York City and Chicago.

Dayton has spent more than five years in purchase negotiations with Norfolk Southern about the rail line, but the parties strongly disagreed about its value.

At one point, the city estimated it was worth about $785,000, while the railroad company said it was worth more than four times that amount.

The city submitted an earmark request to U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and both elected leaders identified the project as a priority and included a $1.5 million and a $2 million allocation for the project in their respective budget drafts, Vincent said.

Turner highlighted the project over the summer when it was part of a bill approved by the U.S. House.

Norfolk Southern remains at the bargaining table and is willing to sell the abandoned line but the deal depends on final approval of the funding, which could be decided this year, Vincent said.

If federal funding is not awarded, the city will continue to advocate for the project but acquisition isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, she said.

“We are hopeful that Congress will finalize and vote on the final budget (including the community projects) before the end of the year but they might adopt an interim budget and complete the annual budgeting process in early 2023,” she said.

Sen. Brown’s office said if Congress can pass a federal omnibus bill this year the project likely would be included.

But his office said funding for the project may not move forward if Congress only approves a long-term spending extension, known as continuing resolution funding.

Some members of Congress, especially the Democrats, are eager to get a full-year federal spending bill passed this year, before a Dec. 16 deadline.

But some conservative lawmakers want to wait until Republicans take control of the U.S. House next year before working to pass a longer-term spending bill.

Some Republican leaders only want a short-term continuing resolution.

The new Flight Line trail could cost more than $5.7 million to construct, according to a funding application the city of Dayton’ submitted to the Priority Development and Advocacy Committee (PDAC).

Many projects submit applications for PDAC funding, but only a fraction receive awards.

The new Flight Line project would close a gap in the regional trail network that features more than 300 miles of pathways, supporters said.

If Dayton can acquire the line, the city proposes building the new trail in three or four phases, the PDAC application states.

Dayton’s application suggests the city may try to put some of its federal Community Development Block Grant funds toward the project.

Many community project funds hinge on whether Congress passes a budget by the deadline next week.

However, U.S. House Republicans did decide they will keep earmarks in place next year when they take over the chamber, according to national news reports.

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