$15 MILLION GRANT: Trail Gets Jump-Start

ESTIMATED COST OF PROJECT AT $38.5 MILLION

— Trail construction to link six Northwest Arkansas cities could begin next year, thanks to a $15 million federal grant.

There are few details yet about the conditions of the grant, said John McLarty, transportation study director for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, the group that began the project.

The end goal is to build a 36-mile trail, dubbed the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, linking Bella Vista, Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell, Springdale, Johnson and Fayetteville.

The total estimated cost of the project is $38.5 million, McLarty said.

The grant application was for about $24.8 million, according to a news release issued Monday by the commission.

Mayors from the six cities, state politicians and local businesses lent support to the trail, according to the news release.

McLarty said the grant, issued by the U.S. Transportation Department, could generate more trails spending, thanks to matching funds and the efforts of individual municipalities.

The Walton Family Foundation will provide some matching funds, according to the news release.

Foundation officials were excited and eager to learn more details, but could not discuss the project in more depth because of the preliminary nature of the grant announcement, said Daphne Moore, a spokeswoman for the foundation.

McLarty said officials aim to have the trail finished by the end of 2013.

Matt Mihalevich, trails coordinator for Fayetteville, said he was excited to hear that the grant had been awarded.

"It seems like there's a lot of support from citizens in the region," he said. 'It's been a dream for a long time, but now it sounds like it could be a reality."

The area already has many good trail segments in place, McLarty said.

Mihalevich said connecting those segments into a spine will be good for tourism, commuting and recreation.

"It's just going to open up all those opportunities to not having to drive on (Interstate) 540 every day," he said.

Jennifer Bonner, an engineering tech for Rogers who was involved in the project, put it another way.

"You cannot get in a car," she said. "Instead, you can bike, roller-skate, skateboard or walk that whole distance."

The grant is part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, the news release stated.