By early next fall, bike riders should have the first section of a new trail that officials one day want to connect with the Katy Trail, which crosses most of the state.

Jackson County legislators on Monday approved a $3.44 million contract with Radmacher Brothers Excavation of Pleasant Hill to build a 6.4-mile section of the new trail on old Rock Island tracks from Jefferson Street in Lee’s Summit north to Brickyard Road west of Unity Village. It’ll be a lot like the Little Blue Trace Trail – 10 feet wide, mostly small gravel but concrete in places, with mile markers and occasional trailheads with parking and restrooms. Construction could start within weeks.

Overall, the county plans 17.7 miles of trail from Lee’s Summit north to the stadiums. Construction on a second major section to the north – six miles with tougher engineering challenges – could start next summer.

Radmacher was the lowest of six bidders, and its bid was significantly lower than the $5.4 million cost that the county had estimated. The federal government is picking up 80 percent of the cost, through a grant originally intended for public transit.

“So that’s a lot of project savings that we can apply to the northern project,” said Josh Boehm, development manager of the county’s Rock Island Rail Corridor Authority.

The county and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority bought the old tracks a year and a half ago from the Union Pacific for $52 million, with the stated long-term option of using that corridor for commuter rail service or something similar, though no plans have come forward.

Project Coordinator Matt Davis said getting a trail built north to the stadiums lends itself to a variety of options, including access to the zoo, the Plaza and the Indian Creek area.

Officials also want to connect the south end with a state trail opened a year ago. It’s a little confusing, but that trail is also called the Rock Island Trail, running from Pleasant Hill south to Windsor, where it connects with the Katy Trail. Officials sometimes refer to that new trail as a part of the Katy, which is popular for its journey of more than 200 miles from Clinton east to the St. Louis area.

Davis said officials are taking a look at that seven- to 12-mile gap in the Pleasant Hill area.

“Without the connection down to the Katy Trail, we just feel like the project won’t be completed,” he said.