A deadlocked WyCo Commission to vote Thursday on whether to approve funding for a trail to Kaw Point Park

Wyandotte County, which often ranks at or near the bottom of the list of healthy Kansas counties, can’t agree on whether to add $250,000 to the tab for a bike and pedestrian trail connector to the historic Kaw Point Park.

Last week, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, Commission couldn’t break a tied vote on spending a total of $760,000 in local funds on a bike and pedestrian trail that’s one-third-mile long.

The UG Commission will try again to decide the issue at its Thursday meeting.

In 2013, the UG approved $510,000 in local funding to pay for what’s called the Kaw Point Connector. Access to the park, which looks over the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, is sketchy unless one drives and parks a car there. The UG’s $510,000 contribution would leverage $1.2 million in federal money to fund what was then a $1.7 million project.

Even the trail’s supporters acknowledge that it’s an expensive project. And it got even more expensive over the last two years, which is why the UG was asked to contribute another $250,000 to supplement what has become a $2.7 million, one-third-mile trail. Construction bids exceeding previous estimates accounted for the bigger price tag.

That growing cost gave some commissioners pause last Thursday.

“I think that’s a lot of money to spend on a point-three-mile bike trail,” said 3rd District Commissioner Ann Murguia.

UG Mayor Mark Holland acknowledged that it was a costly project but advocated for its passage because, he said, the connector could help link to a wider trail network in the future, including a proposed bike and pedestrian crossing along Highway 169 over the Missouri River into Riverside.

“This is an expensive piece — no question, an expensive piece — as part of a much larger bike and hike network,” Holland said. “It’s the missing piece we’ve been working on for a number of years. We also have a ton of federal money coming into this that I would hate to turn down.”

Some commissioners wondered whether they could wait a year before deciding.

“If we sacrifice this project right now, our credibility with the Mid-America Regional Council and with KDOT [the Kansas Department of Transportation] in one or two years will not be very high,” said UG Public Works engineer Bill Heatherman. “If it were only a question of waiting a couple of years, it would be my strong project management recommendation that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Heatherman added that the project scored well in the KDOT and Federal Highway Administration’s matrix for evaluating grant proposals because of its potential linkage to wider trail networks, even with the high cost in mind.

At-large Commissioner Hal Walker was less keen on the project, in part because he was annoyed at the reluctance of the Kaw Valley Drainage District and Fairfax Drainage District to allow the public to access the river levees. The Kaw Valley Drainage District recently opened up more than a mile of levee to the public, while the Fairfax Drainage District is contemplating a trail below the levee on the riverfront.

Walker also expressed doubts about whether Wyandotte County residents would be the primary users of the connector trail.

“The objection is, we won’t fund other necessary projects in this community that I won’t mention that would be $250,000 and we throw $250,000 at a connector trail to a park, not for the benefit of our community primarily but for the people elsewhere that want to use these trails,” Walker said.

Walker made a motion to jettison the additional funding request during last Thursday’s meeting. Walker was joined by Murguia, Jim Walters, Mike Kane and Angela Markley in turning down the trail funding request. Holland, Melissa Bynum, Gail Townsend, Brian McKiernan and Harold Johnson voted opposite. (Jane Philbrook was not at the meeting.)

The tied vote means they will try again at Thursday’s commission meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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