GUSTINE - City officials are hoping to land enough grant money to to expand a multi-use pathway project on the books for completion next year.

City Manager Doug Dunford said that what was initially envisioned as a four-phase project to encircle Schmidt Park with a multi-use path and create a pathway along Meredith Avenue from Linden Avenue to Grove could be done in one fell swoop.

The city was already in line for funding to do the entire park project and the first phase of the Meredith Avenue pathway, Dunford told Mattos Newspapers, and has since learned that additional money may be available for the second phase of Meredith as well.

Federal funding administered through the Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) will cover most of the cost of the four phases, which collectively come in with a price tag in excess of $1.7 million. The city will have to come up with around $100,000 in matching funds, which Dunford said would come from Measure V money as well as Gustine’s allocation of local transportation funds.

“Merced County isn’t getting one of their projects completed, which is why ours has moved forward,” Dunford explained, adding that the city is still awaiting final approval from MCAG on funding for Meredith Avenue Phase II.

The city, he added, has been pro-active in having its engineers take projects to a shovel-ready stage so Gustine is in position to capture any funds that unexpectedly come available. That strategy has already accelerated the time frame for Meredith Avenue Phase I by three years, Dunford noted.

Dunford said the city had initially planned to go out to bid on the project in January, but may delay doing so until February if need be to incorporate the second phase of Meredith Avenue. Ground could be broken in May, he added.

The projects, Dunford said, hold multiple benefits for the community.

A pathway meandering around the 26 acres of  Schmidt Park will make that open space more appealing and promote additional park use, Dunford told Mattos Newspapers.

“I think it will encourage people to use the park more,” the city manager stated.

In a separate project, the city plans to illuminate the pathway using solar-powered lights, and may install exercise equipment as well at various points.

The Meredith Avenue project is geared more toward providing safe routes to schools, Dunford said, and is the first leg of a system which he envisions some day encircling the city.

“This is going to be a 10-foot wide path where you can ride your bike or walk along a nice, safe route,” he commented. “We are looking at a path out to the middle school next, so that kids can start walking out there. Those are multi-year projects.”

The Meredith Avenue route will traverse an area which is open due to a Central California Irrigation District right-of-way, Dunford previously advised the council.

If the schedule for completion of Meredith Avenue Phase II is moved forward, Dunford indicated, that creates a domino effect for other city projects in the funding queue.

“We may be able to do Meredith Phase I and Phase II (together). That would move the downtown roundabout up a year, and we could break ground on that project in January 2021,” Dunford noted.

A larger roundabout planned for what is now a Highway 33/140 turn in front of Richard’s Market, could be under construction in the interim, with ground-breaking possible by late 2020.