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Rails to Trails not dead yet
Black community leaders discuss railroad purchase
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The Norfolk Southern railroad purchase discussion is not dead yet.

At a meeting of several black community leaders Thursday, the no-longer-active railroad corridor was discussed as a way to connect historically black neighborhoods together and connect those neighborhoods to commercial corridors and the Walker's Bend subdivision off Washington Street.

The city and Covington Redevelopment Authority have made revitalizing Walker's Bend a priority, and the rail line runs along a good portion of Washington Street. Nita Thompson, a member of the redevelopment authority, said the meeting was to raise awareness of the issue, not to advocate for or against the purchase.

Thompson was one of the meeting's presenters, and she said Tuesday that the authority has planned to connect Walker's Bend to other neighborhoods, like Texas Alley and Sandhill, through sidewalks. Connecting those neighborhoods to a path on the rail line could open up a popular pedestrian path for bikers and walkers.

"A lot of people rely on walking or riding their bikes as their preliminary mode of transportation. It's prevalent in this community, and think what this would look like if it were a possibility to have a trail connecting throughout the city," Thompson said Tuesday.

There have been discussions about purchasing the corridor and either eventually converting it into a paved trail, which would probably cost a few hundred thousand dollars per mile, or leaving it as a compact dirt path instead, which would be its natural state after removing the trails. The question is whether pedestrians would use it if it was just a dirt trail.

The conversation continues despite the fact the city council has twice voted not to pursue purchase of the corridor. Councilwomen Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams and Councilman Mike Whatley attended the meeting. Franklin and Williams voted against the railroad purchase, but could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Goodman has voted for the purchase twice, noting that controlling the corridor is important and paving a trail in the future would be a positive development. She said even if a trail is paved, it "would not happen overnight."

"I've gone to more than one trail established in other communities and talked to security persons at those places. Not a one said it was dangerous. I know how important our health is and how important it is to provide safe place for people to go keep bodies in good condition," she said Tuesday. "I don't know if it will come up again, but when we had the (first) motion to not discuss anything (anymore), I thought that was the dumbest motion I ever heard. I was embarrassed to be there that night."

In order for the topic to gain traction, at least one council member would have to switch sides and support the purchase, which would lead to a 3-3 tie on the council. Mayor Kim Carter has been one of the strongest supporters for the purchase and would naturally vote in favor of further exploring such a deal.

The Rev. Willie Smith, president of the Newton County Ministers Union, said he was undecided on whether to support the railroad purchase and that the union would discuss it at its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at 3104 Thelma Street S.W.

The railroad discussion was just one topic on Thursday. Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent of operations for Newton County schools, spoke about the 2050 Build-Out Plan, and Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson spoke about development plans in Walker's Bend.