JACKSONVILLE — The city hopes to get a grant to study the prospects of creating a 5-mile-long bicycle and pedestrian path that could follow portions of a long-ago Medford to Jacksonville rail line.
The City Council voted last week to apply for a $75,000 state Transportation and Growth Management grant that would look at issues affecting the proposal and produce a design. The city would need to supply an $8,250 cash match if awarded the grant.
"We are exploring alternatives and opportunities, seeking to find out what is there and what the options are," said Councilor Criss Garcia, who brought the item before the council and had submitted a grant pre-application during March.
Cyclists and walkers traveling between the two cities now must use either a few two-lane rural roads or West Main Street, which has narrow bike lanes next to vehicles traveling at 45 mph and faster. A dedicated path could serve commuters and recreational users.
The original rail route started in downtown Jacksonville, ran through a field at Bigham Knoll and left town near the end of Hueners Lane, cutting across to near where White's Country Farm now stands, midway between Jacksonville and Medford. From there the tracks ran parallel to West Main into downtown Medford.
A grant would help determine how many easements for the old railroad still exist.
"We aren't talking about going through anyone's bedrooms," said Garcia.
For example, rather than go through orchards between the end of Hueners Lane and White's, Garcia thinks a path might be constructed from the end of the lane on a city water line easement to connect with Madrona Street.
A one-quarter mile path already exists along the railroad right-of-way between Bigham Knoll and Middle Street in Jacksonville.
"I've had a lot of conversations about how great it would be to link Jacksonville into the Bear Creek Greenway," Nathan Broom said at the meeting.
Broom, a transportation planner for Rogue Valley Transit District, commutes on bike to Medford several days a week.
"There's been a change just in the last five year as to how our communities are looking at transportation," said Broom. "Cyclists aren't just a fringe anymore."
Broom said surveys find about 7 percent of the population is willing to ride bikes on roads with vehicles. Another 33 percent has no interest in bike riding, but the other 60 percent say they would ride if it's safe and they are not threatened by cars.
Garcia will spend time before the June 14 application deadline to meet with Jackson County and Medford city officials whose jurisdictions also would be involved. He'll also approach chambers of commerce and other groups.
"The more stakeholders we have on board and on the record as supporting it, the better received the grant will be," said Garcia.
Inventory of access points, problem areas, development phases, use estimates and costs would be included in the grant-funded study. Public workshops also would be held.
Once a plan is completed, grants for engineering, acquisitions and construction could be sought. A variety of federal and state grants are available for such projects regularly, said John McDonald, a transportation planner with Oregon's Department of Transportation, involved with the program.
"It's one thing to say we'd love to have a trail, it's another thing to say we have a trail that can be done ... and the community says this is what we want," said McDonald, "It should put them in a better position to actually get their money."
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.