When Gene Bryan of the Cordova Leadership Council heard the recent news that Shelby County had received a federal grant to extend the Shelby Farms Greenline into Cordova, he was thrilled, if not astonished.
"My understanding is that typically these applications may be resubmitted year after year, and it may take anywhere between three and five years to make it to the approval list," Bryan said.
In late September, Shelby County was awarded a grant under the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to extend the Shelby Farms Greenline from its current endpoint at Farm Road in Shelby Farms Park.
The extension will create 4.3 more miles of trail and cost $4.4 million — $3.3 million provided by the federal grant and $1.1 million to be leveraged from private donors. The funding covers the acquisition of land from CSX Transportation (owners of the abandoned railway which forms the path for the Greenline) and the design and construction of the Greenline.
Bryan and other members of the Cordova Leadership Council threw their support behind the Shelby County engineer's proposal for the grant. With the help of Cordova residents, the Cordova Leadership Council mobilized, writing letters and making phone calls to state and county legislators.
"The Greenline will pass through Old Town Cordova," Bryan said, "and it's an area that no one has paid attention to over the years. But this will give it some attention and make it a place that businesses will seek out."
Lauren Taylor, the Hyde Foundation's program officer for greening initiatives, believes community support played a huge role in garnering attention for the proposal and procuring the funding for Shelby County.
"I was really impressed by the support the Cordova community showed, and I think that went a long way," she said. "And it bodes well for the implementation of the project, because they're so excited already."
But as it turns out, those enthusiastic Cordova residents could wait years for their piece of the Greenline.
"Getting a grant does not mean that money will come to you very quickly," said Tom Needham, Shelby County engineer. He estimates that it could take as long as five years before cyclists and pedestrians can hit the trail.
As the grant is not a lump sum already set aside for the recipient, the county must request funding as it goes along. And with the tightening of federal purse strings, Needham points out that this funding does not flow freely from the federal government to Shelby County.
"Budgets are being cut. Money is being pulled," Needham said.
Needham isn't concerned about losing the Greenline grant altogether, but he recognizes that as cash flow on the federal level slows, so could the progress on the Greenline.
"It totally depends on the availability of funds," he said, hinting at another reason the Greenline might have won out over other proposals.
While Needham believes that community support helped win the grant for Shelby County, he thinks it was their financial backing — the pledge to find a 20 percent match from community partners — that made the proposal most appealing.
The Cordova Greenline extension edged out a $7.5 million plan to coordinate traffic signals, the Memphis Area Transit Authority's $1.1 million request to purchase more hybrid buses, and a $1.1 million proposal for the Overton-Broad connector.