Great American Rail-Trail Continues Expanding
Now standing at more than 50% complete, the dream of a completely off-roadway, multi-use trail network spanning the entire country keeps taking steps to becoming reality. When completed, the Great American Rail Trail will extend over 3,700 miles from Washington D.C. to Washington State. The success of this ambitious project has relied on countless local communities spearheading the construction of their trail sections. In western Iowa, the most recent addition to this trail system includes the Railroad Highway Trail just outside of Council Bluffs.
The trail route will run adjacent to the existing Railroad Highway and when completed, this 10-foot-wide, 15.7-mile-long, hard surface trail will connect Council Bluffs to the communities of Underwood, Weston, and Neola. With significant trail planning, design, funding, and construction experience in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, the Snyder & Associates team was uniquely qualified to assist Pottawattamie County leaders with their plans to connect these rural communities with the Omaha/Council Bluffs area. When finished, the trail will not only fill a significant gap in the Great American Rail Trail, but also provide a conduit for nearby residents to walk, run, or bike through an enjoyable mixture of urban and rural landscapes.
Coordination & In-House Bridge Design Keep the Project Moving
In the early planning stages, our team identified numerous parcels for easement acquisition along the preferred trail route. Twenty-two of those parcels presented right-of-way conflicts that our team began to address with the appropriate entities to prepare the trail path. Since this roadway was previously a state highway that had been jurisdictionally transferred from the Iowa DOT to Pottawattamie County, extensive coordination with the County Engineer’s office and the County GIS Department was crucial in determining what constituted the existing right-of-way line.
Additionally, the trail route crosses Mosquito Creek at two locations, creating a need for two bridges within one mile of each other. The structural engineers from Snyder & Associates subsidiary, Shuck-Britson, were able to seamlessly step in to prepare detailed plans for each of the bridges and help Pottawattamie County choose the best option. It was determined that prefabricated, truss-style bridges were appropriate to span the 152-foot and 192-foot crossings. To date, the bridges have been installed and a short 0.9-mile stretch of trail between them is currently being designed. Once paved, this “bridge gap” will connect two paved segments for a total of 3.4 continuous miles of trail.
The southernmost segment of the trail from Council Bluffs to Underwood is currently (2022) being designed. Construction of this segment is slated for 2023 and 2024, followed by the final 6.3 miles of the trail from Underwood to Neola.
Throughout this project, the Snyder & Associates team has served as the lead planning and design firm, providing preliminary survey, boundary survey, and construction staking, along with our design services for trail alignment, profile design, as well as detailing for the extension and replacement of several box culvert locations along the route.
Trail Funding Sources for the Final Stretch
The keys to success on projects of this magnitude are the identification and utilization of numerous trail funding sources. Our team is uniquely qualified to help find the resources to get the job done. This project has been funded by a diverse collection of grants and donations, including the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency Transportation Alternatives Program (MAPA TAP), the Iowa West Foundation, Iowa DOT’s State Recreational Trail Fund, Pottawattamie County, and the Pottawattamie County Trails Association.
Seeing the Full Picture
Multi-use trails have been gaining in popularity for decades by bringing benefits to the communities they pass through and the nearby businesses. They can increase the quality of life for residents in a community by providing space for healthy recreation and safe multimodal transportation. Businesses benefit from the increased traffic and awareness of their goods and services. Many rural communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest have recognized the immense benefits trails have brought to similar communities and have made plans to invest in links to their existing networks.
Once completed the Railroad Highway Trail will join a growing network of hard-surface trails across Iowa, including the well-known High Trestle Trail spanning Story, Boone, and Dallas Counties, the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Dallas County, and the T-Bone Trail connecting Audubon and neighboring Cass County.