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West Allis still hopes to make a connection with crosstown trail

Dec. 7, 2012

West Allis - The long-hoped-for crosstown connector bike and pedestrian hasn't crossed into oblivion just yet.

Hope for the trail re-emerged recently thanks the planned widening of Interstate 894. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation indicated that when it rebuilds the freeway bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, it could make the bridge wide enough for the trail.

That would enable the east-west trail to swing north a bit and pick up 92nd Street, which has a bridge over the tracks, said Peter Daniels, West Allis principal engineer.

From there, the trail could head east again, eventually connecting with the Hank Aaron Trail at about 56th and Mineral streets. At least, that's the leading option the city is now considering, Daniels said.

The long trail

The city began planning for a crosstown trail several years ago, as part of an idea which envisioned not only a local benefit for hikers and bikers, but for trail users literally stretching across the state.

The off-road trail - on a former interurban train route from approximately 92nd Street west to 124th Street - would enable trail users to get to Lake Michigan via the Hank Aaron State Trail to the east and to near Madison via the New Berlin Recreation Trail and Glacial Drumlin State Trail to the west, with further connections as far as the Mississippi River.

It would also provide an off-road connection to the on-road, off-road Oak Leaf Trail through the Milwaukee metropolitan area.

But when the idea began to take shape, the trail soon ran into a roadblock.

Crossing over

To date, what has stopped the trail is the Union Pacific Railroad's refusal to give permission for the trail to cross its tracks.

Though stating that the railroad's safety objections are groundless, city officials continued to search for a way for the trail to get through.

The wider I-894 bridge option would mean the city would only need railroad approval of crossing a little-used spur line that stretches into Waukesha, where it terminates. Daniels was optimistic about getting railroad approval for that crossing. (The more heavily used double track that the Union Pacific doesn't want people crossing is a line that goes out to Butler, Daniels said.)

The I-894 bridge over the tracks is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2015, he said.

Trailing ahead

In the meantime, beginning next year, the city will work on building the western mile of the off-road crosstown connector trail from about I-894 west to meet the New Berlin trail at 124th Street near Burnham Street. That project is estimated to cost $770,000, Daniels said.

Two federal grants will pick up all but $154,000 of that portion of the project. The city has a Federal Transportation Enhancement grant and a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant.

The city will likely borrow for its share of the project.

Last week, the Common Council approved $2,160 to study options for the trail route to get from the tracks to the Hank Aaron trail, including a tunnel under the busy tracks and a bridge over them.

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