BERLIN – The town will continue to pursue plans for a bike path along the railroad tracks through Berlin.
Members of the Berlin Town Council this week agreed they wanted to continue seeking funding through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Bikeways program to build a path in the right-of-way along the railroad tracks. While the Bikeways program would pay for the bulk of the project, the town would be responsible for 25% of the cost.
“Tonight this was put on as a discussion item so you’re aware in your budget talks this is coming,” Planning Director Dave Engelhart said.
Engelhart told the council the town had been working on the bike path project for several years. Berlin initially received grant funding from the Bikeways program for design services in 2017. At that time Davis, Bowen and Friedel designed a 14-foot path with landscaped buffers to go within the easterly portion of the Maryland Delaware Railroad’s right-of-way through town. The path is designed to be built in two phases, with the first phase going from Heron Park to Broad Street and the second phase going from Broad Street to the town’s boundary at Evans Road.
“the total of the two phases comes to $1,263,000,” Engelhart said.
With the 25% match required from the town, Berlin would have to spend $315,819. Engelhart said that if the town was permitted by Worcester County to carry forward the funding the county commissioners awarded for the project in previous years when the town tried to get a Bikeways grant, the town would only be $86,135 short.
Councilman Jack Orris asked why the town’s previous grant applications to through the Bikeways program had been unsuccessful.
Engelhart said he and Town Administrator Mary Bohlen, along with Mayor Zack Tyndall, had met via Zoom with MDOT representatives to discuss the town’s prior applications.
“They were looking for more complete engineering,” Engelhart said.
He added that they also wanted to see input from the Maryland State Highway Administration as far as signage. He added that they’d also had some questions for the railroad.
Engelhart said staff had made an effort to clear up all the questions so that this year’s application would be successful. He noted that seeking the grant was a competitive process and that some jurisdictions that had been successful in recent years had projects that were already underway.
In response to specific questions about the path, Engelhart said it would be located on the left side of the tracks if you were looking south.
Orris asked how it would affect properties on West Street. Engelhart explained that the entire path would be within the existing railroad right-of-way.
“They’ve given us the easterly most portion of 14 feet for an access agreement,” he said. “We’re allowed to build this within that 14 feet.”
Tyndall said that because the streets in historic Berlin were so narrow, pursing this bike path was the best option the town had for increasing accessibility for bicycles. He acknowledged $1.2 million was a significant amount of money but pointed out that the town was only responsible for a quarter of the cost. Of that 25% Berlin will pay, the county has technically provided half.
“The total match from us is about 12.5%,” he said.
When staff asked if officials wanted to pursue phase one, phase two or both phases, Tyndall said the town should pursue both at once. Engelhart said in that case, the town would soon need to send a letter of intent to MDOT.
Tyndall said this was the third fiscal year in a row the town would budget for the project and that he was hopeful it would get accomplished this time.
The council is expected to formally approve a motion to apply for the Bikeways grant in the coming weeks.