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Jackson County Opens Rock Island Bike Trail, But You Still Can’t Ride It To Missouri’s Katy Trail

Cyclists pedal along the Rock Island Trail near the 98th Street access area Wednesday evening near Knobtown.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Cyclists pedal along the Rock Island Trail near the 98th Street access area Wednesday evening near Knobtown.

Bike enthusiasts have talked about a bike trail along the old Rock Island rail line for decades. Even after the 13.5-mile path was completed this week, it still needs a connector to Missouri’s cross-state Katy Trail.

Bikers can finally travel along a 13.5-mile path on the former Rock Island rail line, stretching from the Truman Sports Complex to Lee's Summit, but there is still work left to be done before a continuous cross-state ride is doable.

For decades, enthusiasts have been salivating for a Kansas City connection to Missouri’s 240-mile-long Katy Trail. The rail line was identified in the 1990s as a potential addition.

In 2016, Jackson County bought 18 miles of the Rock Island line from the Union Pacific Railroad for $52 million, and construction on the project began in 2018.

The southern section of the Rock Island Line corridor was completed in 2019, and the northern section just finished up recently. Davis said the northern section took more time and money because it required the construction of walls and bridges, and the county had to build alongside the rail bed rather than on top of it.

Despite the recent additions, there is still an 8-mile gap between the Rock Island Line Corridor and the Pleasant Hill trail network that leads to the Katy Trail. That means bikers are forced to travel on county roads to go between the two.

Matt Davis, the project’s manager for Jackson County, told KCUR's Up To Date that their goal is to bridge that gap with a trail connector. But the county hasn't begun planning that project yet.

“It’s important to us that we do find a way to connect to the Katy Trail system and build a trail that’s accessible for all ages and abilities,” Davis said.

The county hopes that the new trail will have a significant economic impact, bringing visitors and potentially a future transit project to the area.

A third-party economic analysis in 2012 found that Katy Trail had a total economic impact of almost $18.5 million a year. The total value added to the local community from visitor spending was over $8 million.

“Down the line, this is a 100-year or more investment in our community,” Davis said. “So, if that transit project comes to fruition in the future, that will be a good value that we got for the corridor.”

The county will celebrate the completion of the project Saturday morning at the northernmost trailhead in parking lot L of the Truman Sports Complex.

This story was produced through a collaboration between KCUR and Missouri Business Alert.

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DC Benincasa is a news intern at KCUR 89.3.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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