The Dubuque County Conservation Board on Thursday approved two applications for a combined $1.5 million to pave some of the Heritage Trail.
The to-pave-or- not-to-pave discussion was a big one during the county Conservation Department’s recent long-range-plan development, which wrapped up late last year.
During that process, public input was nearly evenly split — with both sides feeling very strongly — on that issue for the heavily used trail that runs from Dubuque to Dyersville. Conservation board member and County Supervisor Jay Wickham noted Thursday that of respondents to a survey 249 supported paving the trail, while 229 opposed it, preferring to keep the trail lined with crushed limestone.
“I personally am torn on it, and it looks like the public is, too,” Wickham said. “If you’re a bike rider or a mother pushing a stroller, obviously paving it sounds pretty good. A lot of us, though, like the trail, think it’s lovely and works the way it is.”
County Conservation Board Director Brian Preston said that the planning project determined significant benefits.
“It would increase the use by three- or four-fold,” he said. “We have a paved section of the trail heading into the city of Dubuque. Trail counters observe it having far more use. And one of the key things is, it makes it equitable and makes our area more accessible to more of the public.”
Preston said that for more than two months of the year, the existing trail is too soft for people with limited mobility to use.
As a compromise, the long-range plan — as approved by the county Board of Supervisors — called for paving a center lane, but leaving 2-foot-wide shoulders of crushed stone on either side.
Paving the trail, however, will be expensive. Preston told the board Thursday that each mile would cost about $350,000.
Two funding opportunities recently opened up that could give the county a jumpstart. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act — the second big pandemic relief bill, passed and signed into law in December — appropriated money to states for roadwork projects. The Iowa Transportation Authority recently created the $5 million COVID-19 Relief Recreational Trails fund.
To qualify, projects must cost $500,000 to $1.5 million. Dubuque County will apply for just more than $800,000 to pave a 4-mile stretch of the trail, from Heritage Pond to Durango.
Conservation board members also approved applying for $500,000 in state Transportation Alternative Project funds, with a $100,000 county match. Preston said that local match would be taken from funds previously provided by the state Resource Enhancement and Protection fund.
If the county secures that funding, Preston said, work on the project would be done in 2022 and 2023. He said the timeline depends on securing these funds.
Preston said this stretch would be paved with concrete, rather than asphalt, for durability’s sake.
“We can use different surfacing on different sections, but this section does occasionally go underwater and we think concrete will hold up better,” he said.
Another benefit to paving the stretch of trail and doing so with concrete is the long-term maintenance cost savings. Preston said that just last fall, the department spent $25,000 maintaining this stretch of gravel path.
This is not the first time that the county has tried to secure funding for paving some of the trail. Preston said the board did so in 2006 or 2007 and again in 2013.
“I think it’s a great idea if we can get it done,” said Board Member Pat Rea. “I have been on the board for quite a while, and we have always talked about paving it. When I got on the board, that was my goal.”
Board Member Cindy Gotto said the timeliness of the grants’ opening was fortunate.
“We have these grants to take advantage of,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity. This will give us a good idea of how much more a (paved) trail is used, to do a section like this.”