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Ambitious Rock Island Bike Trail In Jackson County, Missouri, Stalled After Feds Cry Foul

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Jackson County, Missouri, and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
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An early rendering of the Rock Island trail shows trail running alongside track, a plan opponents say the county abandoned.

A major Rails-To-Trails cycling project in eastern Jackson County, Missouri, that’s been years in the making is suddenly in limbo following a decision this week by the federal government.

On Wednesday, Jackson County stopped construction of the Rock Island bike trail after the federal Surface Transportation Board revoked the county’s authority to operate the one-time railroad corridor.

The county, which issued $50 million in bonds to buy the property from Union Pacific, had reached an agreement in 2016 to use the corridor but only if it could continue to be used as a rail line. However, the Surface Transportation Board ruled that the county had violated that agreement by removing rails and ties to make way for the bike trail.

Jackson County officials said they are now considering their next steps.

“Currently, staff are reviewing the decision with our subject matter experts, partners and others to determine how best to proceed,” officials said in a statement.

The 17.7 mile Jackson County corridor, which stretches from the Truman Sports Complex through Raytown and into Lee’s Summit, was planned to be the western end of a bike trail that would span the state using the abandoned Rock Island rail line.

The first phase of the Jackson County trail, a 6.4 mile segment, was completed earlier this year.

Kansas City-based attorney Tom Stewart, who represents a handful of landowners along the corridor, said on Friday that they could pursue several outcomes, including potentially reclaiming the land for themselves.

“There are a number of options available to the landowners, who, at least we feel, hold all the cards at this point,” Stewart said.

Similar property rights issues have arisen along the Rock Island Rail Corridor across the state.

At the time of the Surface Transportation Board’s decision, Jackson County had been seeking the authority to “railbank” the corridor, which would allow it to abandon the line.

Following Wednesday’s decision, the county suspended that effort.

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him by email at alexs@kcur.org

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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