BERLIN – Town officials agreed this week to seek grant funding to explore the feasibility of a bike trail along Berlin’s railroad tracks.
The town will be applying for a Bikeways Program grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation. On Monday, town councilmembers authorized the expenditure of up to $20,000 in matching funds if the grant is received.
“We meet almost all of the criteria for the grant,” said Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director. “All of the people at Maryland Bikeways have encouraged us to go ahead and apply.”
According to Engelhart, town officials are interested in exploring the possibility of creating a bike trail within the railroad easement. The easement, he explained, extends 33 feet from the center of the track to each side. The bike trail would be about 10 feet wide and would need roughly two feet of clearance on each side.
“We have plenty of clearance in most areas of town,” Engelhart said.
He said there would be a licensing fee involved that would be paid to the Maryland and Delaware Railroad Company.
Mayor Gee Williams said a representative from the railroad had met with the town in early May and expressed interest in the project.
“The longer the tour went on the more excited he got,” Williams said.
“You have a lot of areas in the rust belt where you have rails to trails but Maryland and Delaware Railroad likes this because it would be rails and trails,” he said. “It would be the first of its kind.”
The first phase of the trail Berlin officials are envisioning would run along the east side of the railroad tracks from Berlin Falls Park to the Berlin library. Engelhart said ideally the trail would eventually extend from the northern limits of town, near Route 50, to the southern end of Berlin.
“We don’t know if we’d get a trail that long right off the bat,” Engelhart said.
He added that the grant application the town was submitting was due next week and was meant to help with feasibility and design costs associated with the project.
Engelhart said the design phase of the trail was expected to cost $30,000 and the grant, if received, should cover 80 percent of those costs. Additional grant funding could be available in the future.
Williams said the bike trail was not dependent on the excursion railroad that’s currently being explored.
“This bikeway is not dependent on the railroad coming through first,” he said. “This could proceed even if the railroad excursion has bumps in the road.”