The vision of bike trails connecting Eastern Jackson County to a statewide system is a work in progress, and local officials continue to take steps in that direction.
Two came this week. On Thursday, Jackson County officials held an open house and asked for public comments on plans to improve safety where the Little Blue Trace Trail crosses Missouri 78 in eastern Independence.
Officials are lining up funding and hope to do that work in 2019. The cost could be up to $500,000, and the county plans to go for a state grant to cover half.
The issue is that the trail crosses M-78 on the road itself. The county wants a crossing much like the one at Little Blue Parkway, north of Menards. Bicyclists and walkers have to make a couple of loops, but the result is passing under the parkway on a wide concrete path rather than taking their chances with traffic.
“So that’s the majority of cost right there -- concrete and grading,” said Brian Nowatny, deputy director of park operations with the Jackson County Parks + Rec Department.
The other step this week was the beginning of work on the old Rock Island tracks in Lee’s Summit, Raytown and near the stadiums in Kansas City. The county bought those tracks two years ago and is converting the corridor to a bike-and-hike trail. The first section should be open by this fall, county officials have said.
These things all connect, or at least planners hope so.
Back to the Little Blue Trace Trail for minute. With a short extension dedicated last fall, that trail now runs 15.5 miles along the Little Blue River, from Blue Mills Road south and west past Lee’s Summit Road. Also, about four miles to the south of that, Kansas City just dedicated a short portion of trail at the old speedway -- now a park -- east of Noland and north of Missouri 350. The county’s next priority -- there’s no money or timeline yet -- is to connect that short piece with the county’s Rock Island trail now under construction. They would meet north of I-470 and View High Road.
That leaves two pieces at some point in the future:
• The four-mile piece south from the Lee’s Summit Road area.
• A connection of 5 to 10 miles from the county’s Rock Island Trail to Harrisonville, where a 47-mile state trail opened about a year ago. That trail connects with the Katy Trail, which crosses most of the state.
With all of this in place -- with plenty of water, bathrooms and maybe some bed-and-breakfasts along the way -- a person could hop on the trail in eastern Independence and ride all the way to St. Louis.