Legacy Trail gets approval to begin construction on Isaac Murphy art garden

jmadden@herald-leader.comOctober 14, 2013 

Efforts to complete the Legacy Trail are beginning to resurface after months of stalled construction.

Early last week, Lexington officials were granted the authority to move forward on construction of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden and Trailhead — a decision that Keith Lovan, project manager in the city's Division of Engineering, said they had been waiting for.

"I think a lot of people were frustrated because we had the design for Isaac Murphy but didn't have the funds," said Lovan. "We're just excited now that we do have the funds and can move forward. It brings the Legacy Trail into downtown."

Lovan said he hoped developers could begin submitting bids in November.

The Legacy Trail debuted in 2010 when the city completed the majority of the trail, an 8.4-mile stretch that runs from the Kentucky Horse Park to the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue. It remaining portion of the trail will connect to Lexington's downtown. Much of the land has been donated by the University of Kentucky, Lexmark and other entities. The community selected the trail as a legacy project for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Money to finish the trailhead was appropriated in January, but the city was waiting on a contract and approval from the state. The contract was needed to ensure the state would reimburse the city. City engineers also made changes to the initial development of the trailhead, an area that essentially acts as an entry or exit for the trail. Those changes included separating the trailhead from the final phase of the Legacy Trail so the funds could be released, clearing the way for construction to begin.

The third phase will be funded by a mixture of private, state and federal funds. The largest portion of the funding came from a $2.7 million Transportation Enhancement Grant that was given to the state by the federal government.

Construction of the art garden, at East Third Street and Midland Avenue, is scheduled to begin in February.

Once it's completed, the Isaac Murphy garden will have a variety of art features and bike racks, and mark the end of the Legacy Trail.

Many people are happy to hear about the art garden moving forward. Jeff Fugate, president of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, said the project was something the neighborhood had worked on for years.

"It's a benefit for the neighborhood and validates the role that the East End has played in Lexington for a long time," he said.

Officials still have a few hurdles to clear to complete the trail.

The Legacy Trail was initially supposed to stretch from the Kentucky Horse Park to Third Street and end at the art garden, but those plans were revisited after hearing opposition from residents. Now, officials have to decide whether the trail will go down Third, Fourth or Fifth streets.

"Once we get the design team, then we are going to go out to the public and evaluate the three streets," said Lovan. "We'll get a lot feedback on which street the public prefers and we'll do the engineering to find out which is the most logical from an engineering perspective."

During the evaluation process, certain factors must be observed, said Lovan. The biggest issues stem from traffic and street parking. None of the streets is wide enough to accommodate a bike lane and street parking. All three streets have street parking. Fourth and Fifth streets have hills, which makes it difficult to build on, Lovan said.

"Each street has its own advantages and disadvantages," he said. "We are just going to have to evaluate it based on all the input we get and what makes the most sense environmentally ... we're trying to go in with an open mind and look at all three streets."

Lovan said city officials have had people bike each street and plan to conduct surveys before making a decision.

City officials also had to negotiate to move forward with plans to build 2,000 square feet along the planned Coolavin Rail Trail nearby.

Two railroad companies own the Coolavin land, making negotiations a long process but ultimately productive, said Scott Shapiro, senior advisor to the mayor's office. The railroad project took nearly a year of negotiations, but "we have an agreement on terms," said Shapiro. That portion of the project should begin in the spring.

Aside from those issues, the city needs an additional $1.1 million to complete the trail.

Last week, council members listed the Legacy Trail as one of the projects that could get money from the city's surplus funds. The Urban County Council voted Thursday to spend $7.3 million of the $12.4 million surplus on fire trucks, police cars and other capital improvements. The council did not complete the total allocation of the surplus, but the trail could get $1.1 million from the remaining $5.1 million.

Otherwise, Lovan said, the trail's funding could be included in the budget for fiscal year 2015, which runs July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015.

The whole trail, about 12 miles, is scheduled to be completed by 2015. Once it is completed, the Legacy Trail would have cost about $15 million — most of which was state and federal funds ($4.7 million coming from the Obama administration's stimulus money).

"This is an amazing place to take your bike, your family and your friends to enjoy the best of Lexington," said Shapiro. "This is a broader picture to make Lexington more bike and pedestrian friendly."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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