Brent Hugh is an enthusiastic advocate for the proposed Rock Island Trail, which promises to become a wonderful amenity for bicyclists, hikers and others of all ages in Missouri. When done, it could stretch a couple hundred scenic miles across the state and finally help link the Kansas City area to the highly popular Katy Trail.
Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, points out that the Rock Island Trail will wind through spectacular natural settings, over bridges and up and down hills, all while bringing immense pleasure to users for generations to come.
The 240-mile Katy Trail follows along the Missouri River across much of the state until veering south the closer it gets to the Kansas City area. The east-west Rock Island Trail network will reuse essentially abandoned railroad lines that are south of the Katy Trail but still generally flow through the middle of the state.
There’s so much to love about this project that you almost want to ignore the long timeline Hugh thinks it could take to complete it.
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“We have to set our expectations in terms of decades here, not even years,” he said last week.
Hugh is being realistic, especially given the length of the proposed trail and the nearly 20 years it has already taken for the idea to get this far. But he also optimistically notes that progress could be made much more quickly if cities and counties along the trail work extra hard to get local, state and federal funding in the next few years, as they absolutely should.
The old Rock Island Railroad corridor is owned by mega-utility company Ameren Missouri. If everything goes as planned, Ameren later this year could finally have an agreement with the state opening the way for removal of rails and ties along about 150 miles of its line, in preparation for building a trail. A pact already is in place for salvaging railroad property on about 50 miles from Windsor to Pleasant Hill.
In our area, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said last week he remains committed to purchasing old railroad property from Pleasant Hill into Kansas City near the Truman Sports Complex. A commuter rail line one day could run along this property.
This is the part of the Rock Island Trail plan that would finally let bicyclists and hikers from this region connect directly to the Katy Trail.
Sanders hopes a nearly $60 million proposed deal to buy the property could go through by this September — if he and other supporters in Lee’s Summit, Independence, Kansas City and elsewhere can put together the money to pull it off. Sanders has in hand about $10 million in federal funds and says he’s “very optimistic” he’ll get the rest.
He says there’s no plan to ask county voters for a tax increase, which at this point makes sense because the purchase is not yet complete. If and when that happens, though, Jackson County and other local municipalities should not be bashful if it becomes necessary to ask the public to support some kind of short-term tax or fee increase that could rapidly complete the rails-to-trails initiative.
Many local bicyclists have hoped for years they could hop on a local trail and start rolling across the state. We’re now closer than ever to seeing that dream come true.