Friday, February 22, 2013

Upgrades planned for bike path

BCRD decides to ask taxpayers for $3.5 million

Express Staff Writer

Valley resident Tiffany Larson walks her dogs near Hulen Meadows on the Wood River Trail earlier this month. Blaine County Recreation District Executive Director Jim Keating said the path is suffering degradation and needs to be resurfaced. Photo by Roland Lane

The Wood River Trails system, stretching from Bellevue to Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum, could get a long-overdue upgrade next year, as a county organization prepares this week to ask the community for the funding.

The Blaine County Recreation District has been studying the need for major improvements to the Wood River Trails bike path for about a year, and approved a resolution Tuesday to ask the community for $3.5 million over two years to resurface the decades-old trail surface. An amended version of the resolution is expected to be approved Friday in preparation for a special election on May 21.

Recreation District Executive Director Jim Keating said the district has done an “exhaustive audit” on the bike path to determine which areas might be most in need of help. However, he said it was “premature” to discuss specific improvements, as the work would not begin until summer 2014. 

“The trail from Bellevue to Hulen Meadows touches so many crossings, it’s hard to put a full plan in,” he said. “It’s hard to fully plan for that, a year and a half out.” 

The 20-mile-long bike path saw 300,000 user days last year, Keating said. The most recent section of the trail was last surfaced in 1988, when a county bond helped pay for the entire southern section.

Keating said the varying ages of the trail are reflected in varying problems. One of the major ones, he said, is what he called “alligator cracking,” a diffuse pattern of cracking that runs along the trail, rather than across it. He said this pattern is most noticeable by Hulen Meadows.

“That’s the surface starting to really degrade,” he said.

Other major problems are root protrusions near St. Luke’s Wood River, where roots have pushed up parts of the asphalt, cracking the surface. Keating said these issues are tricky to fix, as it requires carefully resurfacing the area to ensure cracks don’t ensue from a patch.

He said the process will take two years. Heavy-duty equipment will grind down the surface of much of the path to smooth out cracks and inconsistencies—a process called “roto-milling”—before a new overlay is applied. 

“If you have a section that has lots of cracks in it, roto-millng will make it a more consistent surface,” he said. “Most of the [path] is at the right point where you can do this treatment as cost-effectively as possible.”

Keating said this method not only allows for the current asphalt to be recycled, but is cheaper than completely reconstructing the path.  Some sections of the path will be more heavily improved, such as entrances to underpasses where the path crosses the highway, or areas where roots have damaged the path. Keating said the path might be shifted slightly in some places, but will not be significantly rerouted.

“There are a few areas we would like to slightly angle the path better into tunnels, to have better lines of sight,” he said. “There are a few adjustments like that that will add value and increase safety.”

Keating said the district’s board of directors would finalize the resolution requesting the levy on Friday and then would begin the process of bringing the proposal before area city councils and the Blaine County commissioners. 

The Blaine County Recreation District is a taxing district and can put forth levies for voter consideration without other governmental approval. However, Keating said he wants to ensure that the public is educated about the levy before the May election.

“It’s all about getting out good information,” he said. 

Kate Wutz:

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