Baldwin City Council votes 2-1 to install mixed-use trail to BESIC
The Baldwin City Council voted 2-1 Tuesday to construct an 8- or 10-foot mixed-use trail along U.S. Highway 56 from 11th Street to the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center.
The discussion before the vote was unusual for the council because of the differing opinions on the project from the two council members who serve on the Community Development Committee, which was charged with bringing a recommendation on the project to the full council.
The project will install new sidewalk south of U.S. 56 from the corner of the highway and 11th Street to the BESIC. The concrete will be laid about 30 feet from the highway south of the rip-rapped ditch.
The debate on the committee and the council concerned the scope of the project. A 5-foot sidewalk was conceived last summer when $125,000 was set aside for the project in the 2015 budget.
Councilwoman Christi Darnell gained the council’s approval in September to explore increasing the scope of the project to a mixed-use concrete trail of 8 or 10 foot in width with the understanding the cost to the city would not exceed the $125,000 available.
B&G Engineering estimates the cost to design and build an 8-foot sidewalk to be $131,526. After contributions from the Baldwin school district of $22,000 and a private citizen of $5,000, the city’s cost would be $104,526. The estimated cost of a 5-foot sidewalk is $68,738 of which the school district would contribute $20,000.
Councilman Shane Starkey, who chairs the Community Development Committee, opposed expanding the scope of the project beyond what the council originally planned during budget discussions.
Starkey explained Tuesday the school district should have been responsible for installing that section of sidewalk when the BESIC was built. He noted the district agreed to budget $20,000 for the project based on the percentage of its approximate 2/10s of a mile length that will be on district property. He argued the mixed-use trail would increase the value of the project on USD 348 property to $40,000, but the district agreed only to increase its contribution by $2,000 when Darnell approached the school board in November about providing another $5,000 to help leverage a Douglas County contribution to the project.
A relatively short mixed-use trail that links to a 5-foot sidewalk to the east and the BESIC’s 6-foot sidewalks to the west would not get the kind of traffic of the popular mixed-use trail on North Sixth Street, Starkey said.
In response, Darnell repeated points she made in a long report she emailed to council members earlier in the day. She explained she came to support a wider mixed-use trail after reviewing a number of past studies the city contracted. The recommendation of the transportation experts in all those studies was that a mixed-use trail be built at the site of the project, she said.
In addition, the Lawrence/Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization developed a plan in 2005 with citizen involvement of a countywide network of mixed-use trails, which shows a mixed-use trail along that section of U.S. 56, Darnell said. It would be part of a network that eventually would extend west along the highway to Lawrence Avenue and then south to the Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center.
“We hope to build that when we get a Safe Route to Schools Grant in two to three years,” she said.
Citizen surveys have shown strong support for mixed-use trails, and the quarter-cent sales tax city voters approved referred to their construction, Darnell said.
The mixed-use trail would serve more than elementary schools, Darnell said. It would also provide access to the Bull Pup Drive ball fields and a church that meets at the BESIC, she said.
Starkey dismissed the future extension of the mixed-use trail as a dream. Expansion was fiscally irresponsible and similar to the installation three years ago of the little used 5-foot sidewalk on the west side of Sixth Street project, he said. The council should install the sidewalk as originally conceived, he said. That would serve district’s needs and the city could use the money saved on other needed projects, he said.
With Councilmen Jason Mock and Ken Wagner absent Tuesday, it was left to Councilwoman Kathy Gerstner to cast the deciding vote. Before voting for the wider mixed trail, she noted that an oft-repeated concern she heard from residents when running for the council was the lack of planning for the long term. The city often made decisions based on immediate needs that proved inadequate after a number of years, she said.
She also supported the wider trail because it was safer for “squirrelly” young bicycle riders, especially those riding two abreast, Gerstner said.
Mock was very vocal in his opposition to a mixed use trail during a council discussion in September. Nonetheless, Darnell said she wasn’t concerned the decision was made in the absence of two council members. City staff was urging the council to make a decision at the meeting on the project’s scope so that engineer design work could get underway and construction start this spring. It was a discussion item on the meeting’s agenda, she said. Adding to the urgency was the need for the council’s support of the mixed-use trail before the Douglas County Commission would consider helping fund the project, which would reduce the amount the city needed to spend on the project, she said.
Darnell said she sent her long report on the need for a mixed-use trail to other council members with the expectation the project would be a vote on the project’s scope.