Walking path funding pulled just after changes approved


By Sarah Hawley - shawley@civitasmedia.com



SYRACUSE —A week after Syracuse Village Council approved changes to a walking path project which was to complete the path from the entry to Syracuse to Village Hall, the Ohio Department of Transportation has pulled the funding.

The statement from ODOT reads,

In 2015 the Village of Syracuse applied for and was awarded funds from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program for construction of a second phase of the Syracuse Walkway.

As the Department has worked with village officials, consulting parties and residents on the development of this project, it has become clear that the community is deeply divided. The divisions are deep enough to have damaged the ability to have open and transparent communications between the project’s sponsor and interested parties.

The Department is rescinding the Transportation Alternatives Program funding awarded to this project. The Department will no longer carry forward any further project development activities and the project will be put in closed status.

ODOT District 10 spokesperson Ashley Rittenhouse told the Sentinel that letters were mailed out this week to village officials notifying them of the decision.

This means that the officials would not have known about the decision at the time of last Thursday’s council meeting in which they approved an alternative design plan which kept the walking path away from the historic Amberger house. Placing the path in front of the residence had been objected to by the State Historical Preservation Office.

“Council realizes this change of location is not in the best interests of all residents, but it is necessary due to the objections of the State Historical Preservation Office in order to complete the project in a timely manner and provide a much-needed walking route from the corporation limit to various activities within the village for the many elderly and handicapped individuals in that area along with the many younger people who need safe routes to the park,” stated a news release on the action by council last week.

At the time of the council meeting, Mayor Eric Cuningham stated that issues raised in a May 2 letter from ODOT to the village were addressed at a May 23 meeting with ODOT administrator Alan Craig.

The residents in attendance at the council meeting interpreted the ODOT letter to be a prohibition on any further construction, based on the letter’s wording of “Option 3 is to choose no-build and to not move forward with the project as currently envisioned.”

The mayor was adamant Phase 2 of the walking path would continue.

Council moved ahead with approval of the modified project, understanding that funding was in place for the project.

In a copy of the May 2 letter obtained by the Sentinel, which was addressed to Mayor Eric Cunningham, now-retired District 10 Deputy Director Steve Williams states in part,

After extensive discussions with ODOT, the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) is not willing to agree that construction of the walkway in close proximity to the Amberger house will not adversely affect the historic property despite the incorporation of porous grass surface with pavers. SHPO’s conclusion is largely based on the level of public controversy with this project.

The latter further states that should the plans for the project move forward with public hearing and further discussion, as well as coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington DC, it would require additional time and funding.

To date, ODOT has spent over $102,000 on preliminary development and as an agency, we cannot justify additional time or costs at this time. I realize the Village of Syracuse has spent considerable funds for design also.

The level of public controversy on the project is considerable and if the Village of Syracuse wishes to move forward with this project, considerable efforts will need to be made to address/resolve the public concerns.

ODOT outlined three possible options for the project moving forward.

First option is for the village to reach out to residents and work with them to minimize controversy and basically find ways to address their concerns. Then, ODOT could re-coordinate with the consulting parties and SHPO and the cost of the project development could diminish.

Option 2 would involve moving ahead with the work as identified in paragraph one of this letter. Under that option, the village would need to identify funds to hire a consultant to conduct the necessary public involvement and additional documentation to move forward.

Option 3 is to choose no-build and to not move forward with the project as currently envisioned.

We appreciate the hard work that the village has put into this project to date, however, the level of public controversy associated with this project will be hard to overcome.

With the funding from ODOT no longer available the project will not be able to proceed as planned.

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By Sarah Hawley

shawley@civitasmedia.com