KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County is one step closer to converting an old railroad into a walking and biking trail.
The first phase of the Rock Island Rail Corridor will open within the next 30 days. The second phase should open by the end of 2019.
Jackson County split the project into two phases of roughly seven miles each. The first phase runs from about Jefferson Street and 291 Highway in Lee’s Summit to Brickyard Road near Noland Road in Kansas City. Phase two will go from that point to the Truman Sports Complex.
Coordinators built the trail on an abandoned railroad. Trains stopped using the path in the early 1980s. The project coordinator said old railroads are easy to convert to trails because they are not steep and have the infrastructure in place to support a path.
"It's really transformed what was once a kind of blighted part of our community and made it into something I think the citizens will really enjoy and utilize every single day," said Matt Davis, the project coordinator for the Rock Island Rail Corridor Authority
Davis said building both phases of the trail will cost $15 million.
When people walk or bike along the first phase, they will pass through a tunnel under Bannister Road.
The Vale Tunnel was completed in 1904. It’s about 453 feet long. Contractors are in the process of adding lights under the tunnel now.
When the trail opens, Davis believes the tunnel will be a big draw for walkers.
"I think you're going to see people stopping here, taking pictures, looking at this beautiful, 100-year-old structure and really admiring it," he said.
When the trail is complete, there will be an eight-mile gap between the southern end and the western end of the Katy Trail in Pleasant Hill.
The Katy Trail runs from St. Charles across Missouri to Pleasant Hill. Davis hopes to connect the Rock Island Corridor to the Katy Trail, thus connecting Kansas City to the trail system.
"For all the businesses, all the restaurants and bars and coffee shops and places people want to go to that are along this track, it's going to make a big difference for them. Especially the folks who are coming from across the state and spending their money here in the KC region," Davis said.
Jackson County has applied for grants to help pay for a trail to close the gap between the Rock Island and Katy trails. There is no available abandoned railroad within that gap.