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'One of those projects that was so big' — Pieces of Lincoln's long-awaited trail bridge project finally fall into place
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'One of those projects that was so big' — Pieces of Lincoln's long-awaited trail bridge project finally fall into place

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The biggest piece of the $2.2 million trail connector bridge near Wilderness Park fell gently into place Friday morning.

But first, it had to wait for a train.

By 9 a.m., K2 Construction crews had the 167-foot span — the centerpiece of the 350-foot link between the Rock Island and Jamaica North trails — rigged to the crane and raised a few feet off the ground.

A small crowd was gathered — trail advocates and Olsson engineering reps and a city parks official, some in spandex and some in jeans and some in masks, all of them in reflective safety vests. A pair of drones hovered overhead.

They were told the workers were waiting for the railroad roadmaster to announce the next 45-minute train-free window.

And at 9:15, word spread: Next train in 10 minutes, then it’s a go.

Ten minutes became an hour. No train. Finally, at 10:30, a southbound train rumbled through, but the crane stood still.

'This project really resonates' — Private donations supporting 350-foot trail bridge in southwest Lincoln

Sara Hartzell was waiting patiently. The Parks and Recreation Department planner had been working on this project for more than three years, and the concept of a connector bridge was born long before that, she said.

Now that it was this close, what was a few more minutes?

“It’s one of those projects that was so big that I didn’t know how we’d ever put all the pieces together,” she said.

When it’s finished, it will join the Jamaica North Trail — the spine of the system in west Lincoln, leading to trails to Pioneers Park and as far south as Kansas — with the Rock Island Trail, which feeds the majority of the city’s trails, including the Omaha-bound MoPac.

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Bridge work

It will span a pair of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks and eliminate a long-used illegal shortcut, which required bikers, hikers, runners and walkers to trespass across the tracks and, in some cases, climb over idling trains.

But it’s been a hard-fought project. When the city publicly announced the plan in 2017, it estimated the cost at $1.1 million.

Two years later — after engineers had a chance to sample the soil, and after steel and construction costs climbed — the price had doubled.

Price rises on Rock Island Trail bridge project; fundraising underway

Tax dollars are paying for a little more than half of the $2.2 million: $250,000 from the city  and $900,000 from the Railroad Transportation Safety District.

The Great Plains Trails Network got busy raising the rest of the funds needed, and in the most ambitious drive in its 30-year history of helping the city build trails, it gathered more than $1 million for the project from hundreds of donors.

Which is why one of the city’s longest trail bridges already has an equally long name — the Great Plains Trails Network Connector — even though it’s not scheduled to be open until early next month.

But it got closer just before 11 a.m. Friday.

After the first train passed, a second followed a few minutes later. Then the crane swung into action, lifting the 93,500-pound bridge deck and setting it into place, the new trail now two dozen feet above the next train.

Three years later, Lincoln's 350-foot trail bridge starting to take shape
350-foot bridge will connect trails, span rails

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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