SOMERS POINT - Work is set to begin on the first part of a two-phase, nearly $500,000 project that will connect the bike path with the Route 52 causeway and beyond.

The City Council approved a resolution Thursday to authorize bids for the construction of the first phase of the long-awaited extension of the bike path.

Council President Sean McGuigan said Phase I will lengthen the path from its current ending point at New Jersey Avenue to Somers Avenue at a cost of approximately $250,000, with $200,000 of that total being funded through a state grant.

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The City Council anticipates awarding the contract for the first-phase construction at its first March meeting, Administrator Wes Swain said. Work is expected to begin soon afterward.

Meanwhile, the city has applied for $200,000 in state grants to fund the cost of connecting the bike path to the massive, new $400 million Route 52 causeway, which will include a 10-foot-wide bike path when completed in late 2012.

Swain said the city only expects Phase II to cost about $150,000, but that it has not begun engineering for that portion of the project because it is still awaiting word on the status of its grant application.

"Phase two is really going to be more about landscaping than putting in road," said Swain, adding the path will be equipped with certain features - including lighting and curbing - that will tie it in aesthetically to the features included along the causeway's bike path.

The major difficulty City Council faced getting to this point, Swain said, was planning the route the bike path will take. The path could not continue in a straight line from where it ends because of private property that it would have encroached upon. Plans now call for the path to jut out briefly to the east, past the fire house, before continuing southward at Center Street.

"As a government entity, we can't operate the way a private business would in getting things done quickly," he said. "There are quite a few more hoops that we have to jump through."

But Swain said the entire project could be completed by the end of 2012.

When completed, McGuigan said the completed bike path extension would enhance the quality of life for residents throughout the region.

"In my opinion, the bike path provides the kind of exercise and outdoor recreation opportunities that people are always looking for. And for the first time, will be able to walk, jog or ride a bike along path from Absecon to the beach," McGuigan said. "It will be something everyone - from the 2-month-old child out for a walk with a parent in a stroller to the 100-year-old grandmother out for a stroll - to enjoy."

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