Lexington's popular trail system will grow by nearly 2 miles in coming years thanks to $6.5 million in federal transportation funding.
Gov. Steve Beshear announced Tuesday at a news conference at McConnell Springs Park that the state will use federal dollars to design and build the remaining sections of the Town Branch Trail, which will eventually connect Lexington's horse country to Oliver Lewis Way.
Beshear, who is in his final 18 months as governor, said he and First Lady Jane Beshear wanted to finish as many trails as they could before leaving office at the end of 2015.
"We realize the importance of trail systems — the economic development that it brings, the tourism that it brings and the pleasure that it brings," Beshear said. "This is a giant step forward in Lexington's vision, the mayor's vision, the council's vision of a greenway network that connects this county and goes beyond this county. These greenways encourage alternative transportation, outdoor recreation and exercise."
The trail mostly follows the Town Branch section of Elkhorn Creek.
Two miles of the Town Branch Trail have been completed, and construction on a third section has been funded but has not yet begun. The trail starts at Masterson Station Park and now stops at Alexandria Drive. The third section will go from Alexandria to Bizzell Drive.
The $6.5 million will go to designing and building phases four and five and will pay for the design for the sixth and final phase.
Design of the fourth phase will begin this year and is scheduled for completion in 2016. Phase 4 is 2,800 feet long and will cost $1.01 million. It will pass under a bridge that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet plans to rebuild in 2015 as part of a widening of New Circle Road.
Design plans for the fifth phase will begin in 2015 and should be completed in 2016. That section is a mile long and will cost $5.1 million. The cost is steep because it will require the construction of a bridge over R.J. Corman Railroad tracks and the Town Branch.
The final phase will extend the trail 1.2 miles from McConnell Springs park through the Distillery District to Oliver Lewis Way.
Keith Lovan, a project engineer for the city, said that the only part that is not funded is construction for the 1.2 miles from McConnell Springs to Oliver Lewis Way. That's largely because it's not known how much that portion will cost.
Beshear said he would like to see phase four completed before the end of 2015, when he leaves office. That's unlikely. Phase four likely won't be completed until 2016.
Still, "I would like to be the one to cut the ribbon," Beshear joked.
Van Meter Pettit, a local architect who spearheaded efforts to get the trail started and then funded, said Tuesday's announcement elevates Lexington's profile as not only a trail city but a city that appreciates its assets.
"This puts us on the map nationally as a trail city and as a university city that really values its own history and natural resources," Pettit said.
Mayor Jim Gray said Town Branch is also a key part of Lexington's history. The city was founded in 1775 along the Town Branch.
"The Town Branch Trail connects our history, our beautiful natural landscape and our urban environment," Gray said. "We appreciate the state's partnership in developing a system of trails across the city."
Mike Hancock, secretary of the Transportation Cabinet, said the federal transportation money used for the project is earmarked for congestion and pollution mitigation. Trail projects encourage alternative forms of transportation such as biking and walking, which decrease congestion and pollution.
Hancock said that Beshear saw the Town Branch Trail project on the state's to-do list more than six months ago and pushed state Transportation Cabinet officials to get the project completed.
"He wanted to get this done," Hancock said after Tuesday's news conference. "The governor knows a lot about economic development. He knows that oftentimes a project like this can make a difference."