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Mount Vernon Avenue Bridge replacement project expands trails to campuses, downtown

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — A $6.8 million bridge project on Mount Vernon Avenue will have a significant impact on the city’s transportation infrastructure which will merit advantages to motorists, cyclists, walkers and runners.

“With the observed degradation of the Mount Vernon Avenue Bridge, we knew it would need replaced,” said Brian Ball, engineer for the City of Mount Vernon. “We had an opportunity to apply for ODOT funding, which in the near future the ODOT funding would not have been available for our bridge. With access to ODOT funding we then worked to maximize public benefits. We had a one-time opportunity to provide upgrades not only for motorists, but also for pedestrians and cyclists.”

The new bridge will not only be a safe, long-term replacement, but will upgrade accessibility to the area’s outdoor amenities such as the Kokosing Gap Trail and Memorial Park. Bike lanes on the north and south sides of the bridge will be 13-feet wide. The north side will carry the Kokosing Gap Trail to Memorial Park and downtown. The south side will include a new concrete multiuse trail along the west side of Cougar Drive and create a safe connection between MVNU and KGT.

Land along Cougar Drive was donated by Mount Vernon Nazarene University and the trails are both funded by Transportation Alternative Grants, which cover 95 percent of each trail, according to Ball. The city’s contribution will be 5 percent of each trail.

“This is creating not only a safer passageway for students to the high school, middle school and MVNU from the Kokosing Gap Trail, but also for community residents and trail riders that are coming in,” said James Smith, MVNU’s Vice President for University Relations.

The intersection of Cougar Drive and Mount Vernon Avenue will also see upgrades as part of the project. According to Ball, the intersection will be safer with the addition of a left-hand turn lane from the bridge and additional measures for increased pedestrian safety. The extension of the trail south on Cougar Drive should also keep pedestrians on the trail rather than on Cougar Drive. These improvements are also important to provide access to the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant on Cougar Drive.

“The whole corridor is going to change for us; it’s going to be amazing,” said Smith.

Ball anticipates having a contract in place on or about July 1. At that time, he will have a better grasp of the construction timeline, which is expected to take about a year. While under construction, traffic flow will be mostly limited to one lane although there will be periods of road closure for Mount Vernon Avenue as well as Cougar Drive.

The total project is funded, in large part, through the Ohio Department of Transportation. A Small Municipal Bridge Grant will cover $2.5 million of the cost of the bridge construction with the city funding the remaining cost. Two Transportation Alternative Grants will provide financing of $1,978,661.94 for two multiuse trails including the additional bridge components required to support these trails. The city’s overall contribution to the project will be based on the contractor’s bid and the actual cost to build the bridge. The city is funding this cost through the sale of “private placement” bonds, according to City Auditor Terry Scott.

Once athletic expansion and the bus garage are completed by MVNU and Mount Vernon City Schools, including the extension of Yellow Jacket Drive to Cougar Drive, it is expected the trail down Cougar Drive will be connected to Yellow Jacket Drive and the high school/middle school campus.

“These joint projects will create a handicap-accessible multiuse trail system that connects MVNU, Mount Vernon High School and Middle School and the Knox County Career Center to downtown Mount Vernon,” said Ball.