The City of Edinburg now looks to assist the University of Texas-Pan American in competing for statewide grants that could be vital in developing a proposed hike and bike trail through it’s campus.

A Memorandum of Understanding passed at the most recent meeting of the City Council on Jan. 5, puts UTPA and the City in competition, but not with each other, for a Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program (STEP) Grant through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

At issue is at least partially funding UTPA’s proposed $2.3 million hike and bike trail, which would be located within the university, and circle the new Health and Wellness facility located on Schunior and Sugar Streets.

The Jan. 5 agreement essentially entrusts Edinburg with carrying UTPA’s project through TxDOT. The subsequent Memorandum of Understanding passed afterwards in turn provides that the university will completely fund the trail’s design, as well as a 20 percent match of the project’s cost as outlined by the STEP Grant.

“We are going to act as an agent for the university because, technically, they can’t apply for it (STEP),” said City Engineer Isael Posadas. “What we have done with these agenda items is basically took on a UTPA project as our own, and applied for the project and then an MOE where UTPA understands and agrees to fund their portion of that.”

UTPA’s trail would tentatively connect with the city’s own $1.9 million proposed hike and bike trail that would stretch from the intersection of Chapin and Jackson Roads to Canton Road. The Edinburg Review first reported that city councilmembers on Dec. 1 approved a resolution to go ahead with the city’s own application to STEP for funding of the Jackson Road project.

The city hopes it will know the outcome of their own application to TxDOT by this summer, according to Posadas. If the city’s application for the grant is successful, then dispersement of funds could then follow within the next two years, he said.

“It’s all inside the City of Edinburg, so it’s not too much of a stretch for us. We are happy to assist with the endeavor for the university so they can also apply. It is on a competitive basis, but any one of the two trails will be a benefit to the city,” Posadas said.

TxDOT has funding available under STEP for projects it says integrate transportation facilities into the environment in a “sensitive and creative manner while enhancing mobility and providing an alternative means of transportation.”

The STEP Grant works on a reimbursement basis where both entities are eligible for a maximum reimbursement of 80 percent of the cost of their respective projects. In this case the city agrees to pay 20 percent of the cost ($380,000) of their Jackson Road project as well as any cost overruns. UTPA would pay about $575,000 towards the cost of their hike and bike trail.

The two projects are not dependent on each other, according to Posadas.

“Eventually, maybe we will get both projects funded and if we do then we will have not only one on Jackson but a connection along the university,” he said. “Our hope of course is we get both of them. That is our hope. Either one of the two projects would be a benefit to us. The one on campus would be a public facility anyway so anybody within Edinburg, anybody in the public would have access for walking or hiking and biking.”