COLUMBIA — Despite delays, many of Columbia's trail projects are nearing completion.
Whether it's rainy weather, engineering issues or paperwork required by the federal government, trail projects from both GetAbout Columbia and the Department of Parks and Recreation have lagged behind schedule — sometimes by more than a year.
But several projects are under construction and are planned to be finished by the end of the year. Construction on many other projects is scheduled to begin by that time.
For example, Bridges 12 and 13 on the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, which were closed for replacement in January, are scheduled to reopen Friday afternoon.
Just in time for football season, a new sidewalk is scheduled to open along Stadium Boulevard between Providence Road and College Avenue.
Here's an update on Columbia’s trail projects:
In this case, weather is the culprit.
The replacement of Bridges 12 and 13, located between Scott Boulevard and the Twin Lakes Recreation Area, has been beleaguered by weather delays, said Richard Perkins, an engineering aide with the Parks and Recreation Department.
In total, crews lost 67 days of work on the project, Perkins said. When construction began in January, plans were to have both bridges ready for spring.
For Bridge 13, completed March 6, snow and cold weather often kept crews from work.
For Bridge 12, high water in the Hinkson Creek — caused by heavy rainfall or runoff from the creek's watershed — often washed out the temporary low-water crossing that crews built to access the construction site, Perkins said. When the access point was underwater, crews couldn't work, resulting in 35 days of delays.
The final span of Bridge 12 was set in place July 2.
The trail has been open on an intermittent basis for the past couple weeks while crews finish up the project, said Mike Griggs, manager of parks and recreation services.
Perkins said the trail will be fully open as soon as the contractor finishes resurfacing the trail Friday afternoon.
Trail users said they were excited to use the bridges but did not seem too bothered by the delays.
"Nothing they can do about it when they're dealing with water," said cyclist Ben Kutz, 66, who stopped to watch the construction July 2.
"To me, you got several trailheads you can grab, so you're never too inconvenienced," said runner Steve McDaniel, 54.
Piper Brintnall, 27, said she was looking forward to using the new bridges.
"It'll be interesting to see how it looks and how it feels to run across," she said.
Although the bridge project is finishing late, Griggs estimated the final cost would be about 5 percent below budget.
The Parks and Recreation Department projected the bridges would cost $507,000, and the department has spent $470,000 to date.
The main problem for GetAbout projects has been the natural slowness of working with federal funds, said Ted Curtis, the Bike/Ped Program manager at GetAbout Columbia.
GetAbout Columbia manages the $22 million in federal funds that were awarded to the city when it was chosen to participate in the Federal Highway Administration’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program in 2006.
Curtis said paperwork has caused most of the delays.
“It’s just the federal process that makes it slow,” Curtis said. “It’s a whole bunch of different steps you have to go through.”
Curtis said some delays have been weather-related, particularly with Providence Bikeway South, which will run along Providence Road from Rock Bridge Elementary School to Green Meadows Road.
That trail was previously scheduled to be done in March. Curtis said it is now scheduled to open in September, weather permitting.
Deadline for GetAbout report extended
Columbia is one of four communities participating in the federal pilot program. All four are behind schedule, Curtis said.
For that reason, he said, the deadline to submit a progress report to the Federal Highway Administration has been extended to the fall of 2011.
Originally, each community was to report by the end of this year.
“We and all the other (participating cities) didn’t have the projects done in time,” Curtis said. “Before the projects were done, it didn’t make sense to report.”
Additionally, Curtis said, it looks likely that the Federal Highway Administration will offer more funding and further extend the pilot program.
He said the city is looking at future projects should the program receive more money, but that nothing was certain.
Curtis said he expects the majority of GetAbout Columbia’s biggest projects to be completed within 18 months.
“We’re really coming down to the homestretch on the process,” he said.
The Hominy Branch: A 'critical' trail
No trail links central Columbia to the eastern side of U.S. 63.
That will change with the construction of the Hominy Branch Trail, which will extend from the area of Stephens Lake Park — through The Links at Columbia, 5000 Clark Lane — to reach neighborhoods north of Interstate 70.
“(The Hominy Branch Trail is) going to be probably the most critical trail we put in — and one of the most complicated, too,” Curtis said.
He said the Hominy Branch is complicated because workers must put in sewer and water lines along the trail route before the trail itself can be built.
The trail is critical because it connects the northeastern part of Columbia to the trail system, he said.
From Stephens Park, trail users will have access to Columbia's new Bike Boulevard, which will lead west to the downtown area.
They will also be able to link up with a new pedway — an extra wide sidewalk — that will run south along Old 63 to the Grindstone Nature Area.
There, bicyclists, runners and walkers can access the Hinkson Creek Trail, which leads west to the MKT.
The Bike Boulevard is scheduled to be finished next month.
The Old 63 pedway is slated for completion by October 2011.
The Hominy Branch Trail is scheduled to open in November 2011, about 11 months after an earlier projection.
Philip Dooley, 52, lives on Lansing Avenue, which will tie into the new trail.
“It'd be really sweet if I could walk right down there and have this connection to our city trail system," Dooley said. "Somebody could start out in our area and hit the Katy. That would be awesome for fun.”
Sandy Ward, 51, lives nearby on Woodridge Court. She said she was looking forward to using the new trail.
“I’m really excited for the bike trails to link up to this neighborhood, and I think a lot of people will use it,” she said.
Ward's son, Blake, 15, said he didn't mind the delays too much.
“We never really had a trail here before, so I can wait a little while,” he said.
Another Hinkson connection
The Greenbriar Trail is scheduled to have a function similar to that of the Hominy Branch: linking a number of neighborhoods to the city’s trail system.
Greenbriar Drive, just south of the Hinkson Creek Trail, has no direct connection to the trail. That means area residents must go out of their way and take routes with heavy traffic — for example, Forum Boulevard or Providence Road — to access the trail system.
The Greenbriar Trail will change that.
“There’s a whole bunch of people up there who now (will) have access,” Curtis said.
The trail is currently slated to open by August 2011, about a year after an earlier projection.
Ted Kalogeris, 54, lives on Oakridge Court, just off Greenbriar Drive. He said the trail will make his bike ride to work much safer.
“Now that I’ve got kids, I can’t afford to have myself get slammed by a car, so I tend to be a little more conservative in my riding than I was when I was younger," Kalogeris said. "So that’s why I like the trails. It’s not necessarily that I’m scared, because I’m not intimidated by cars. But you can’t control what someone else is going to do when they’re behind the wheel."
Robert Bailey, 68, lives on Greenbriar Drive. He said the trail would make it easier for him to ride his bike into town.
“I’d use it all the time," Bailey said. "It’d certainly be so much easier to just go down the street and to the trail.”
There are four GetAbout projects whose purpose is to link bicyclists and walkers to the MKT:
- the Garth Extension Trail;
- the Stadium Boulevard connector;
- the Katy Place Trail;
- the Wilson’s/Katy Lane connector.
Curtis said it’s important to provide easy access to the MKT because it funnels traffic to the downtown area.
The Garth Extension Trail will provide access to the MKT from South Garth Avenue via Lathrop Road. It will also link the trail to East Clarkson Road.
The MKT already has a Stadium Boulevard trailhead near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at Battle Gardens.
However, Curtis said, the trail often fills with gravel and water near Stadium Boulevard. He said GetAbout will work to resolve the issue and to improve the connection between the trail and the bike lanes on Stadium Boulevard.
Danger on Forum Boulevard
The section of Forum Boulevard near Wilson’s Fitness and the Missouri Athletic Center (the MAC) at 2900 Forum Blvd. has gained a reputation among bicyclists as a dangerous area.
Cyclists, runners and walkers traveling from the MAC area west and north to the Forum MKT trailhead now have to cross a fairly narrow two-lane bridge over Hinkson Creek.
Adding to the danger, the bridge is located at a large bend in the road where traffic moves swiftly.
“I oftentimes will bring clients out here to try to get to the trail to run, and cars aren’t very biker friendly,” said Abby Rolbiecki, 25, a personal trainer at FIT, a part of Wilson's Gym. “It’s always really bad right here.”
Bailey, from Greenbriar Drive, said Forum Boulevard is his main route to town. He said he's looking forward to the new Greenbriar Trail allowing him to avoid Forum.
“Since this bridge is so skinny, the small shoulder that cyclists do have is always dirty and has scraps of glass and metal or screws — all the bike hazards that come with riding on the road,” said MU student and cyclist Emily Adams, 22.
Curtis said GetAbout Columbia has several possible plans to improve the bridge.
At a July 21 meeting, members of the Bike and Pedestrian Commission expressed support for a new pedestrian bridge that would be constructed north of Forum Boulevard.
The City Council had previously recommended a plan that would have diverted westbound bicycles away from Forum, north to the back of the MAC parking lot. From there, a new pedestrian bridge would have run directly to the MKT.
Engineering issues with the Hinkson Creek levee have since ruled out that plan, Curtis said.
Curtis said those issues — and other complications — have caused extensive delays. The project, currently slated to open in March 2012, is now about 16 months behind its previously projected completion date.
Curtis said GetAbout Columbia will seek further input from the council in September.
Katy Place Trail
The Katy Place Apartments at 1700 Forum Blvd. already have a connection to the MKT, which is about a quarter-mile southeast of the apartments.
But parts of that connector trail are composed of rough rocks — some more than 3 inches in diameter.
The trail also passes by an abandoned building with boarded windows and profane graffiti.
Katie Larson, 23, a Katy Place Apartments resident, said she uses the trail to connect to the MKT. But the abandoned building gives her pause.
“That makes me nervous going past it,” Larson said.
Her boyfriend, Justin Craig, 22, expressed similar concerns.
“It wouldn’t bother me too much, but if she’s out riding by herself or something like that ...” Craig said, trailing off.
GetAbout's Curtis said the building is part of an old sewer plant. He said there are plans to tear it down, though there's not yet funding to do so.
Still, Larson said she was less concerned about the building than about the MKT Bridge closures, which have kept her from riding directly to the Katy Trail from her apartment.
Curtis said GetAbout plans to fix up the Katy Place Trail and extend it farther north to connect with Forum Katy Parkway near the Goodrich Forum 8 cinema. The extended trail would be about a half-mile long.
Those improvements are scheduled to begin in May 2011. They would be finished by September 2011, about 10 months after a previously projected completion date.
In addition to larger projects such as trail construction, Curtis said, GetAbout Columbia plans to continue to work on smaller projects, such as restriping streets to make them more bike-friendly.
“No matter how good the trail is, to get somewhere, you have to get off the trail and on the street,” Curtis said.
In some cases, restriping involves adding bike lanes. In others, it means painting “sharrows” on the street to indicate that the road is narrow and must be shared by motorists and cyclists.
For the new Bike Boulevard, streets will be restriped in a way that gives bicycle traffic priority over automobiles.
As projects continue to progress, Curtis said, GetAbout Columbia's primary objective has become achievable: getting people to use their cars less often.
“It seems like there are more and more bikers and walkers all the time,” Curtis said. “So we’re making progress even though some of the capital projects aren’t done.”