West Allis makes a connection with new bike trail

First leg in ongoing plan uses old interurban rail corridor

The West Allis Crosstown Connector Bike and Pedestrian trail, shown during its recent construction, is now open.

The West Allis Crosstown Connector Bike and Pedestrian trail, shown during its recent construction, is now open.

Dec. 3, 2013

West Allis — The first phase of the West Allis Crosstown Connector Bike and Pedestrian Trail is now officially open.

The first leg of the east-west trail, which uses part of the historic interurban trolley corridor between West Allis and Waukesha, starts at Greenfield Park and runs parallel to and a bit south of Greenfield Avenue to about Highway 100.

On its west end, the new trail connects with the New Berlin Recreation Trail, which connects to other bike routes and trails going all the way to the Mississippi River. It also intersects the existing Milwaukee County Oak Leaf Trail for north-south routes.

The long-planned bike and pedestrian trail project included the construction of several retaining walls, the restoration of an old bridge and a mile of new asphalt.

Funding for the project's $980,000 first phase was provided through federal program funds, in addition to matching Community Development Block Grant funds allocated to the city.

We Energies — which now owns the land on which the trail's first leg as well as the adjoining New Berlin trail into Waukesha are built — made the corridor available for free.

Key corridor

The corridor was first used for interurban trolley service on June 28, 1898, by the Milwaukee Light, Heat and Traction Company. Interurban rail service ended in 1951, but the corridor remained intact.

Planners have long recognized its value for creating a system of bike trails that would cross the entire state. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission first identified it in 1994 as a way to link existing trails on both sides of West Allis and provide the missing link between the Hank Aaron State Trail and the New Berlin trail.

"It's a great east-west corridor for bikers," said West Allis Mayor Dan Devine.

One man at the trail's Nov. 23 ribbon-cutting ceremony told local officials that he lives in Waukesha and already bikes the trail to his job in West Allis, Devine said. There could be much more of that with the trail going past many major employers, he added.

Alderman Marty Weigel, an avid cyclist, also applauded the new trail as the first step to connecting trails from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

"It's an important piece," he said.

The path ahead

The next phase of the West Allis Crosstown Connector Bike and Pedestrian Trail project will include a bridge over Highway 100 in 2015 and the continuation of the trail underneath Interstate 894 after construction of a new freeway bridge in 2018 as part of the Zoo Interchange project.

The city is still working on an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad for the trail to cross a spur line.

After that last phase is completed, the route will extend from 124th to 98th streets and will continue on streets, including Lapham Street, National Avenue, Greenfield Avenue and 65th Street to connect with the Hank Aaron Trail at 56th Street.

Subsequent phases are expected to be at least as expensive as the first leg. The total estimated $3.1 million cost of all three phases is believed to be paid 80 percent with federal dollars.

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