Rock Island Trail opens

By John Sharp

A 10 a.m. ribbon cutting Saturday, June 1, will mark the official opening of the first 6.4 miles of the Rock Island Trail stretching from Jefferson St. west of Missouri Highway 291 in Lee’s Summit to Brickyard Rd. south of Missouri Highway 350 near Noland Rd. in KCMO.

The public is invited to attend the ribbon cutting at the 98th St. Trailhead, 12600 E. 98th St., for the bicycle/pedestrian shared use trail that runs within the former Rock Island Railroad corridor.  Persons may reach the trailhead by turning south on Norfleet Rd. from Bannister Rd, and then turning west on 98th St.

Railroad bridge over the Little Blue north of 470.

In addition to constructing the trail itself, the project included the rehabilitation of several railroad bridges along the route and the rehabilitation and lighting of the historic Vale railroad tunnel under Bannister Rd.  Built in 1903, the arched concrete tunnel is 453 feet long, 28.6 feet high and 18 feet wide.

Jackson County and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority acquired the 17.7-mile Rock Island Railroad corridor which runs from Lee’s Summit to near the Jackson County Sports Complex from the Union Pacific Railroad in 2016 to use it for a trail and preserve it for possible future use for public transit such as light rail or commuter rail passenger service.

The county hopes to connect the trail to the Katy Trail that runs clear across Missouri to St. Charles, allowing cyclists and hikers to traverse the width of the state from one major metropolitan area to the other, thus boosting tourism all along the route.  

That trail recently was extended from Windsor to Pleasant Hill as part of the Rock Island State Park, but there is still a gap of several miles (called the Greenwood connector) from the end of the Rock Island corridor in Lee’s Summit to Pleasant Hill.  Funds have not been secured yet to construct this segment.

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