Big breakthrough on last piece of Katy-KC trail connection: Rock Island Corridor leads to the heart of Kansas City

Work to connect the Katy Trail across Missouri, from state line to state line, has been in the works for decades. 

Monday one of the biggest steps forward in this long-term project was announced:  Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced that Union Pacific has agreed to allow the County to purchase 15 miles of the Rock Island Railroad Corridor.  Plans for the corridor include both commuter rail and a trail connection.

That trail connection will bridge the final 15 miles between the current end of the planned Rock Island Trail State Park, in Pleasant Hill, and the heart of the Kansas City region.  That Katy to KC connection has been a top priority of MoBikeFed and many of our allies across the state for many years.

When the Katy-KC trail is finished, it will link several of Missouri's largest cities and second largest metro area directly to the Katy Trail. It will also create a vital link, and one of the most difficult, in the proposed quad-state trails plan.

The Lee's Summit Journal summarized the deal that has been struck:

The Union Pacific Railroad has agreed to sell Jackson County a 15-mile section of track running through Lee’s Summit, preserving the corridor for a biking trail or commuter rail.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced Feb. 24 that the county has an agreement to buy the track of the defunct Rock Island Railroad and two smaller spurs for $59.9 million. 

Mike Sanders, Jackson County Executive, has taken a leading role.
Mike Sanders, Jackson County Executive, has taken a leading role in negotiating with the railroad for purchase of the corridor.

“These are significant rail corridors and significant step for trails and rail,” Sanders said. “Today commuter rail becomes a possibility for the citizens of Jackson County.”

The county only has to figure out how to pay for it. The hope is for federal and state grants to cover the purchase. . . .

If a trail along the Rock Island line is built it becomes a Kansas City connection to Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park, going through Lee’s Summit.

The Rock Island Corridor runs from the Truman Sports Complex to Pleasant Hill.

A bicyclist eventually could pedal from Brookside in Kansas City to St. Louis on the trail network, Sanders said.

The KC Star adds

Rock Island Railroad - Trail groundbreaking in Pleasant Hill in 2009
Rock Island Railroad - Trail groundbreaking in Pleasant Hill in 2009

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, said he will seek federal money to cover some or all of the purchase price. Sanders said he was betting on the latter. . . . 

Sanders praised the railroad for its willingness to let the county buy the properties. Railroads typically prefer to hang onto surplus rail corridors in case they want to reactivate freight rail service along them later.

Also, the railroad agreed to three other conditions that Sanders said were favorable. The county did not have to pay anything for the option, the railroad will allow the county to make payments on the purchase without interest, and it has agreed to talk about the county’s possible use of an active line that might connect a commuter rail system to downtown.

This section of the Katy to KC trail will connect with the Rock Island Trail State Park, currently under construction from Pleasant Hill heading southeast, which will soon tie Pleasant Hill with the city of Windsor on the Katy Trail, a distance of about 46 miles. MoBikeFed News summarized the progress on the corridor as of last year, and BikeWalkKC has more details about how this major regional trail connection will interconnect with the local trail system.
 
The Rock Island Corridor Coalition, consisting of cities, counties, and other agencies along the Rock Island Corridor, has been working for several years towards purchase of the corridor.
 
 
Creating a world-class bicycle and pedestrian network across Missouri is one of the four major objectives in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri.  Extending the Katy Trail network into a truly statewide trail network is one of the primary goals of the Vision.  Your membership and support help make our Vision become reality!