After more than two years of planning, raising money and then raising even more, work could soon start on a $2.2 million hiker-biker bridge in southwest Lincoln.
The city is wrapping up easements with Burlington Northern Santa Fe giving the city access to, and above, railroad property. It’s close to hiring a contractor. And preliminary work — removing trees and ordering supplies — could begin by the end of the year.
The city’s contract will require builders to finish the bridge by mid-September, said Sara Hartzell, a planner with the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department. “But the hope is they could get done even sooner.”
The 350-foot span across a pair of railroad tracks will connect the Rock Island Trail with the Jamaica North Trail near Densmore Park, keeping users from trespassing on railroad property. But more importantly, it will give them uninterrupted access to hundreds of miles of trails, said Gary Bentrup, a Great Plains Trail Network board member.
“A key element of the trails network we have in Lincoln is connectivity,” he said. “This piece is really pretty important.”
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And pretty expensive. When the city proposed the Rock Island to Jamaica Connector in 2017, it estimated the cost at $1.1 million. Then $1.3 million. Earlier this year, after engineers dug deeper into the site and steel and construction prices climbed, the overall price tag jumped to about $2.22 million — twice as much as originally predicted.
Public money will pay for slightly more than half, $900,000 from the Railroad Transportation Safety District and $250,000 from the city. The trails network took on the task of raising the rest — $1,070,000 — privately, its most ambitious drive in its 30-year history.
So far, more than 400 donors have contributed about $860,000. Some gave $5. Others gave $100,000.
“We’re really lucky in Lincoln,” Bentrup said. “People have always been generally in support of trails. But this project really resonates with a lot of people across the city.”
Since it started in 1988, the network has raised more than $4 million for trail projects, Bentrup said. So he’s confident it can find the final $210,000 for the connector bridge in the coming months.
“I think we’ll get there, but we’ve also asked a lot from donors. You don’t want donor fatigue.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter