Wilmington-Newport trail gets $23M in fed funds
WILMINGTON — For years, politicians and trail advocates have been hoping for a path to connect the 17 miles around the Wilmington area.
That dream is one step closer to becoming reality with a $23 million federal grant issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation to build the Newport River Trail. The project includes a 2-mile, shared-use path that would run alongside wetlands and the Christina River.
“This is something we’re going to look back on, like the Jack Markell Trai,l and realize it’s something that’s going to transform our community for generations to come, in ways we haven’t even imagined,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said during a Tuesday press conference.
The Newport River Trail has been discussed as an idea since 2014, and with the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant, it can become a reality. The ADA-accessible path is planned to start at South James Street and connect to the Jack A. Markell Trail under the Interstate 95 overpass.
In 2020, a feasibility study was completed and identified a path with a price tag between $20 and $22 million. The Newport River Trail will also include a boardwalk that spans a portion of the north bank of the Christina River and provides access to an industrial park owned by Newport-based developer Harvey, Hanna & Associates. It would take about 10 minutes to bike the entire length.
Over the last decade, New Castle County has labored over a network of trails like the Mike Castle and Markell trails that have miles of pavement from the Wilmington Riverfront to the C&D Canal. On the northern end of the city, the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail covers the Brandywine Creek through Rockwood and Alapocas.
But another 6 miles is still missing from the “Wilmington Loop,” and in those miles lie the underprivileged population of the city. The Newport River Trail aims to start that connection, while another proposed trail would close the loop.
“This is a compelling vision,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said. “The vision of connecting in a way that brings together communities, binds folks of all backgrounds and connects us back to the natural world.”
Awarded by DOT, RAISE grants are allocated to multimodal road, rail, transit and port projects that may have had a harder shot of receiving money through normal federal channels. The program received a boost from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, getting $7.5 billion in supplemental funding over five years.
In July, the DOT announced it would grant $2.2 billion in funding for 162 projects across the country. Delaware received $44 million for two projects: the Newport River Trail and the Lewes-Georgetown trail.
“Out of the thousands of applications chasing billions, someone was able to reach down and pull out $44 million for little old Delaware,” Coons said with a smile. “This is a key piece of a long-standing plan, and when we were looking at this a decade ago, that cost was a big barrier.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, added that while roads and highways have gone miles in making it possible for people to travel the country, it has also divided much of the nation between who can afford to travel via car and who cannot.
“If you’ve ever driven I-95, you can drive through cities that have separated populations on the basis of color or economic strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “While we needed I-95, we didn’t need that division and we’ve been trying to overcome that ever since. And this will be literally one of the ways to do that.”
The Wilmington Loop has also been backed by a number of top executives and business organizations as a way to appeal to a younger workforce that is less interested in owning a car and more interested in bicycling or riding scooters to work in the morning.
Delaware State Chamber of Commerce President Mike Quaranta told the Delaware Business Times that he also sees opportunities for education as well, and not just kids looking for a safe route to walk home after class.
“There’s really a potential here for kids that want to work in a co-op at night and might not have a way to do that. It’s safe and easy, and there’s employers in the Pathways programs that may be interested,” Quaranta said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of adults biking to work, but it’s now an option for some.”