For 15 years, Lexington has been working — with success — to create an east-west citywide greenway for bicycles and pedestrians linking our world famous Bluegrass countryside with the city center.
The Town Branch Trail is a "river walk" concept inspired by places like San Antonio, Austin, Boulder and Madison, Wis., but tailored to our unique conditions. This advocacy campaign has been a big success. Not only has Town Branch been incorporated into the ambitious plans for the Rupp District and Town Branch Commons, but Lexington has also secured $4 million in land and funding for three miles of the trail, two of which have been built.
Greater awareness of the Town Branch has motivated local businesses and even a new bourbon to adopt the name. The completed two-mile section of the trail has received strong public support and heavy use.
Lexington now faces an opportunity to advance this project while saving taxpayers money, if a section of the trail can be fully coordinated with highway construction slated to occur in its immediate vicinity.
We have all seen streets get repaved and then torn up the next month for utility work, when the cost and disruption would have been diminished through better coordination. Today we are faced with a similar dilemma on a much larger scale. There is a brief window to coordinate development of Town Branch Trail with the imminent expansion of New Circle Road between Georgetown and Versailles roads.
The trail will pass under New Circle were a bridge is being rebuilt. The trail will then need to cross a rail line and creek in a parallel trajectory just like the expanded highway. This section will connect Masterson Station and area neighborhoods with the Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Leestown Campus and the Townley and Meadowthorpe neighborhoods.
Once it crosses with a bridge over the rail and creek it will link with McConnell Springs Park as a temporary destination on the way to the Distillery District, the Rupp District, Town Branch Commons at Vine and Midland, and the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Park.
This clear and simple proposal: to build a parallel, but separated, path for pedestrians and bicycles at the same time as the highway. It was presented over a year ago to transportation staff and is estimated to add one percent the highway expansion project. We believe an ounce of forethought will spare a pound of remorse considering time and the cost to taxpayers.
There is ample precedent and support for this integrated approach:
■ The U.S. Dept. of Transportation requires such solutions where feasible and when federal dollars are used.
■ AASHTO, the national highway handbook, describes this type of bike path/highway integration over major obstacles in great detail as a standard cost-effective method for continuous trails.
■ The new federal transportation law called MAP-21 emphasizes "improving transportation investment decision-making through performance-based planning and programming" with performance targets like "congestion reduction, environmental sustainability and reduced project delays. By building the trail at the same time as the highway the state will save time and money, reduce congestion and enhance environmental sustainability on what promises to be Lexington's busiest bicycle and pedestrian corridor.
The trail section and bridge are estimated to cost $870,000, or one percent of the at least $80 million highway expansion project — well within the contingency budget for state projects. That's why the Urban County Council voted overwhelmingly for a resolution requesting the trail section be included in New Circle Road expansion plans. That is also why the Fayette Alliance and many Lexington residents have endorsed our plan.
Why tear up the highway and creek for roadway expansion only to have the process repeated at greater expense later for the parallel trail? We proposed this concept to staff at District 7 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet a year ago to no avail, despite the fact that they could find no viable alternative that would be easier to achieve or save taxpayers money.
We have shown literally dozens of existing precedents for this type of parallel pedestrian and highway bridge design around the country. Why can't we do this here?
The new 2040 transportation plan developed by the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, is full of language about principles which support bike and pedestrian trails, economic development and denser, walkable communities. There is not a single project that would better promote these principles than a completed Town Branch Trail.
When complete, this greenway trail will connect thousands of residents, students and workers to key landmarks and neighborhoods without the need for a car or to navigate a busy highway.
The time window to get this solution included in plans for New Circle Road is limited. If you would like to see this timely and cost-effective solution achieved, please write to the governor and express your support.
Van Meter Pettit, a Lexington architect, is president of Town Branch Trail Inc.