The City Council has approved the creation of a $416,000 Transportation System Plan that could reduce people's reliance on cars while boosting walking, biking and riding the bus.

The City Council has approved the creation of a $416,000 Transportation System Plan that could reduce people's reliance on cars while boosting walking, biking and riding the bus.

The city received a $125,000 grant in 2009 to help fund the project. The remainder will be paid with transportation system development charges that the city assesses against new development.

City officials had hoped the consulting firm Kittelson & Associates could complete the work for $350,000, but the final cost estimate came in at $416,000 — or $66,000 over that amount.

The city may win another $66,000 grant to cover the extra cost. But with that grant still uncertain, Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught asked the City Council to authorize spending $66,000 more in transportation system development fees in case the city doesn't win that grant.

A slim 3-2 council majority authorized the expenditure on Tuesday.

Mayor John Stromberg, who votes only to break ties, said the Transportation System Plan will guide future development in town. A former chair of the Ashland Planning Commission, he said getting people to live, work and shop in places that are in close proximity can reduce reliance on the automobile.

"It's rethinking this community for when we don't use cars as a primary way of getting around," he said.

Some residents have questioned how far Ashland can move away from automobile use given the town's many steep hills and high proportion of elderly people.

Councilors David Chapman, Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin approved authorizing another $66,000 to complete the Transportation System Plan.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse and Russ Silbiger voted against the move. Councilor Kate Jackson was not present.

Lemhouse said the city should try to control spending, especially since many residents are scaling back because of the troubled economy.

"As a city, when do we do that?" he asked.

Faught said the city could have simply updated its decade-old Transportation System Plan for about $150,000. But he said that plan focused on the automobile, with only a nod to other modes of transportation.

Faught said the city continues to have problems with bicyclists being able to get through downtown Ashland. North Main Street also lacks bike lanes.

The new plan will look at those types of issues, as well as tying future development into mass transit and creating "green" street design.

"Green" streets can have features like pervious surfaces that allow water to soak into the soil. Other possibilities include areas where water laden with dirt and oil from street run-off can flow into vegetation-lined ditches and ponds, rather than pouring directly into the storm drain system that dumps untreated water into local creeks.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.