“If we’re going to be Bike City, Alabama, if we’re going to market ourselves as a bike haven, we’ve got to start with infrastructure,” Mayor Vaughn Stewart said Tuesday at a City Council work session.
Jack Plunk, chair of the city’s Chief Ladiga Trail Task Force, presented members at a Tuesday afternoon meeting with what he called an optimistic and aggressive plan to wrap up the 7-mile trail extension in four phases over the next three years.
“This is just a draft,” Plunk said, noting that the city should build portions of the trail as soon as it is able.
The most critical portion of the project, he said, will be acquiring right of way from the more than 280 property owners who gained rights to the property when the railroad was abandoned.
According to Plunk’s timeline, property acquisition could start as soon as September and take about two years, the longest phase of the project.
“It’s rather complex, it’s rather time-consuming, but that is critical issue about doing the project,” he said.
But if the city is able to secure rights to significant sections of the trail’s proposed extension before then, Plunk said, it should begin construction on those areas regardless of whether the city has assembled the entire right-of-way. Such an effort, he said, would drive momentum for completing the trail and provide a demonstration piece to spur participation in the project — while giving city residents an opportunity for a somewhat shorter workout.
The extension of the trail will serve as a spine for other bicycle and pedestrian-friendly pathways throughout the city, which city consultants plan to incorporate in three phases over a 9-year period. The plan laid out by Rod Wilburn of JR Wilburn and Associates at the City Council’s work session does not align with the Task Force timeline for completion of the Ladiga Trail. Instead, it calls for completion of the Ladiga Trail extension in two phases over six years.
“Don’t let us discourage you,” Wilburn said. “If we can do it faster than that, let’s do so.”
Wilburn noted some of the projects in their plan, such as a shared use “inner loop” bike route through the city’s downtown, could be completed in about three months.
Other projects to be tackled in the first 36 to 42 months include bicycle access to Coldwater Mountain, a shared use project on Noble Street and shared use bikeways at 12th and 14th streets.
Longer term projects include construction of dedicated bicycle and pedestrian trails on other abandoned rail lines in the city and connections into McClellan and LaGarde Park.
“This infrastructure … is meat and potatoes,” Stewart said. “As important as those two trails are, we’ve got to do that. Do it in phases, but it’s got to be done.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.