Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Rails-With-Trails Opportunity?

This afternoon I attended a thought-provoking webinar hosted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The 90-minute presentation focused on rails with trails, an alternative to full rail corridor conversion in areas where the railroads continue to operate. Fans of our own Eisenbahn State Trail know that the trail’s southern terminus at Rusco Drive is not the end of the corridor itself, and many of us look with longing at the still-active line that stretches down to Jackson and beyond.

It’s the 4-mile segment from Rusco Drive to Main Street (State Highway 60) in Jackson that interests me the most. I would love to see the trail extend all the way to Milwaukee someday, but in the near future the costs of building such an extension would be prohibitive. Jackson, though, is an obvious target because the village is so closely tied to West Bend. We share a school district, for example, and an Eisenbahn that links the communities would give middle school and high school students a safe and practical route that would take only about 30 minutes to complete.

(I have mentioned some of this before.)

Of course, there are challenges. Getting permission from the railroad would be a huge hurdle, but finding the money would be even bigger. The Eisenbahn as we know it was, for the most part, created by the simple application of limestone screenings on top of the old railroad track ballast. As a rails-with-trails project, an extension to Jackson would be 4 miles from scratch.

The rail corridor intersects at-grade with Rusco Drive, Rail Way, County Highway NN, Pleasant Valley Road, and Cedar Creek Road, and there are two or three creek/ditch crossings where new bridges would be needed to accommodate trail users. Also, there are the four railroad sidings, short lines that branch off from the traffic line to serve industrial sites. They appear on each side, so a trail cannot be constructed without crossing at least one siding. “Best practices” recommend construction of a fence to separate the trail from the railroad tracks, and that by itself is a considerable expense we didn’t have to worry about before. And, given the urban commuter nature of the most likely user base, the extension should be paved with asphalt to match the trail surface within West Bend. Up front, that makes construction more expensive but it’s actually cheaper to maintain over time.

Washington County built the Eisenbahn from the Fond du Lac County line south to Rusco Drive, and probably only Washington County could build an extension to Jackson. The extension would pass through the City of West Bend, the Town of West Bend, the Town of Jackson, and the Village of Jackson. It wouldn’t make sense to have multiple civic divisions entering into their own agreements with the railroad, arranging construction and maintenance, etc. (For you out-of-state readers, a Wisconsin “town” functions just like your “townships.”) I can’t imagine the county taking this on; it seems more likely that such a project will wait until the railroad corridor falls into disuse. But you never know. At the urging of Bike Friendly West Bend—and with the promise of funding from private sources—the county is moving forward with significant improvements for the Rusco trailhead. Watch for a proper parking lot, a toilet, and an information kiosk by the end of 2016. Just a year ago, that project was only a dream, too.

1 comment:

  1. I thought about the idea of "rails with trails" quite a bit as well. I agree that ending the Eisenbahn in Jackson, perhaps at Jackson Park, rather than oddly ending on Rusco Road where there is NO parking would be a boon for the trail. Heck, the Jackson railroad depot still exists in the park. If the Boy Scouts were willing to sell it, it could be used as a trailhead building in the park.

    I'd also love to see a trail from Hartford to Germantown that follows along side the Wisconsin Southern tracks. While the tracks are still active, they're ~barely~ active. However, I don't foresee that ever happening... at least not while I'm alive.