COLUMBIA — The state has received $18 million from AmerenUE to be used within three years to expand the Katy Trail westward almost to Kansas City. The project would add about 46 miles to the route.
Pending court approval, trail expansion will begin at Windsor, northeast of the trail head in Clinton, and continue to Pleasant Hill, a suburb of Kansas City.
“It’s a huge step forward,” said Brent Hugh, director of the Missouri Bicycle Federation.
If the 46-mile stretch can be completed, he said, a final portion into Kansas City is possible.
“Everyone will be killing to get it farther,” Hugh added. “This is the only way possible or not at all.”
The state and Ameren reached a settlement in November over a lawsuit that stemmed from Ameren’s Taum Sauk reservoir collapse in December 2005. The collapse flooded Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park with 1.3 billion gallons of water.
Ameren is responsible for restoring the state park, as well as rebuilding the reservoir. In addition, a portion of the settlement required Ameren to give the state $18 million for construction on the Katy Trail and granted use of the Rock Island Railroad corridor.
Missouri Central Railroad Co., an affiliate of Ameren, still owns the portion of the rail system that will be used to expand the Katy Trail. Although the railroad tracks have not been used in some time, Hugh said, trains may once again run in that area.
The new portion of the trail would be constructed alongside existing railroad tracks. As a result, some parts may not be as wide as everyone is used to, said Sue Holst, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Currently the Katy Trail extends from Clinton to St. Charles, and construction is almost complete on another 11 miles of trail east of St. Charles to Machens.
In the Kansas City area, communities seem to support the idea of continuing the trail beyond Pleasant Hill.
“We are very excited,” said Scott George, director of Parks and Recreation in Pleasant Hill. “It is a great addition for state recreation.”
A citywide master plan that includes a trail on the west side of Pleasant Hill will connect to the Katy Trail expansion and continue north, George said. Ground breaking is expected in early spring, he said.
Although some have questioned whether the amount from Ameren will be sufficient to complete the new section of the Katy Trail from Windsor, Holst said the state thinks it will be enough.
Before the trail can be built, the land must be surveyed, and modifications will have to be made to standard Katy Trail designs, Holst said.
Although an exact time frame cannot be given for the expansion, according to the settlement, the funding from Ameren must be used within three years for the trail or the state can then use the money for another park purpose.
“We believe we can build it in three years,” Holst said. “It is in there for a safeguard,”
The public comment period on the project ended Friday, and the trail plan will not be official until the Reynolds County Circuit Court approves it.