Jackson County & KCATA announce partnership to acquire final piece of cross-state Rock Island-Katy Trail system

Today Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, the KCATA, and other local partners announced a historic partnership designed to fund acquisition of the final piece of a statewide trail system that has been decades in the works: The 17.7-mile section of the Rock Island Trail that brings the trail into the heart of the Kansas City metro area.

Jackson County's press release gives the details:

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority President and CEO Joe Reardon announced a cooperative agreement today that will provide the financing necessary for the future acquisition of the 17.7 miles of the Rock Island Corridor from Union Pacific Railroad.

"This is an historic step forward for our entire community. The significance of this announcement, and its potential to shape our county's growth for generations to come, cannot be overstated," said Sanders.

So is this a final deal to purchase the final stretch of trail to make the statewide connection?  Not quite.  But it is a major, historic step.  It is perhaps the most important step in the final dealmaking that will end in acquisition of the corridor and construction of the trail, because it provides the needed funding for corridor acquisition, which has been the major obstacle to completing the deal with Union Pacific to acquire the corridor. The County's press release indicates that the deal is very, very close to complete: 

While discussions with Union Pacific continue, the parties announced that they are nearing a final agreement.

"All major issues involving the acquisition of the Rock Island corridor have been agreed to. We anticipate having a final agreement very soon" said Sanders. “In addition, $10 million in federal funds has already been set aside to help clear the way for future construction on the trail.”

The County is projecting that they will complete the deal to acquire the corridor from Union Pacific within the next few weeks and trail construction may start as soon as 2016.

Our understanding is that Jackson County, Kansas City MO, Raytown, Lee's Summit, and KCATA have committed funds to help acquire the corridor. Major funding comes from KCATA's funds for capital improvement. In addition, Jackson County recently received a $10 million federal grant towards trail construction and have other major grant applications in progress.  Congressman Emanuel Cleaver issued a statement in support of the project.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders joins local and agency officials
At Arrowhead Stadium near the terminus of the Rock Island corridor, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders joins local and agency officials and partners to announce the Rock Island corridor funding

Much credit and many thanks must go to KC's regional advocacy group, BikeWalkKC. The Rock Island Trail is a priority in their ten-year vision, and they have done and amazing job catalyzing local support for the trail and to encourage creation of the local bike/ped network and programs that will support and enhance the Rock Island Trail once it is in place.

The last--and most difficult--piece of a trail linking the entire state from east to west

Since the Katy Trail was created in the early 1990s, state and local leaders--under the urging of MoBikeFed and our many allies--have been working to connect the trail system across the state and to the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas.  Last week, Governor Nixon announced that an important piece of the statewide trail, 47 miles from the Katy Trail at Windsor to Pleasant Hill, will be completed and open in 2016. 

Today's announcement is major progress in putting the final piece of that statewide trail system in place--the piece that will bring the Rock Island Trail to the heart of the Kansas City area.

Together with local trail systems planned and in place at the eastern and western ends of the trail, the system will finally reach across the entire state from east to west, from the Arch to Liberty Memorial, from state line to state line. 

Imagine being able to bicycle from downtown Kansas City to downtown St. Louis.  With these new trail connections, we'll be taking this ride in just a few short years.

A 450-mile statewide trail loop

But that's not all.  Advocates first envisioned a statewide trail in the 1990s, but as work has progressed, many more options have opened up. 

Work on the Rock Island portion of the trail opened up the possibility of adding another 144 miles to the system (Section 3, in red, in the map above).  That will allow the Katy and Rock Island Trails to connect in two places--Clinton and Washington--to create a statewide trail loop system over 450 miles in length. 

In 2014, a flurry of events culminated in Ameren agreeing to transfer this 144 mile section ot the Rock Island corridor to Missouri State Parks. Legal work to transfer this 144-mile section to Missouri State Parks is now underway and should be completed by early next year.

A 1000-mile seamless multi-state trail system

The 17.7 mile segment that is the subject of today's announcement, together with the 47-mile segment recently promised for completion in 2016 by Governor Nixon, connect the Katy Trail to the heart of the Kansas City metro area. 

But they also form a potentially more important connection: This section of trail is the keystone of a planned multi-state trail system that will integrate thousands of miles of trails in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois into one massive, interconnected regional trail network.

Imagine being able to bike or hike from Kansas City, Columbia, Jefferson City, St. Louis, and dozens more Missouri cities and towns along the trail, to Council Bluffs, Omaha, Lincoln, Topeka, and many more locations in the Midwest.  That's what we'll be able to do when this trail system in complete--and it's a LOT closer to completion now that the key Katy-Kansas City link is in place. 

This is a great day for Missouri trails.  Keep your tires aired up and your sneakers handy--because we'll be biking and walking it very soon.

Thanks to supporters and partners

Many thanks to trail supporters and partners across Missouri who have worked hard to make the cross-state trail system possible. Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and a whole coalition of mayors, city staff, agencies, and organizations in the Kansas City area--now prominently including the KCATA--have pulled together to acquire this portion of the Rock Island Corridor.

Governor Nixon, Missouri State Parks leadership and staff, many city officials, elected leaders, agencies, and organizations across Missouri have spent countless hours working to make the Katy Trail and now Rock Island Trail State Park a reality.

It has taken all of those people working together towards a common goal to make today's announcement possible.  Many thanks and congratulations to one and all!


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One of the top goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri is building a world-class bicycle and pedestrian transportation system in Missouri.  We have worked to build support for extending the state's trail system from state line to state line, and to work towards a seamless, interconnected multi-state trail system.  The addition of the Rock Island Trail to Missouri's statewide trail system is the biggest single advance we have seen in Missouri's statewide trail system in over 20 years.

Your membership and generous financial contributions help turn our Vision into reality--building the statewide public support for bicycling, walking, and trails that make major advances like the Rock Island Trail possible.