The public got a look at plans for two new bicycle and pedestrian bridges that will allow thousands to trail users to cross busy highways safely and add another link to a greenway connecting St. Louis and St. Charles counties.
The standing-room only open house at the St. Charles County Heritage Museum on Feb. 9 included details about the soon-to-be-built bicycle and pedestrian bridges over Route 364 and Hwy. 94 in the city of St. Charles.
The bridges are another phase of extending the Centennial Greenway that will connect Heritage Park and the Katy Trail State Park to thousands of residents in St. Charles County. The complete Centennial Greenway eventually may stretch from central St. Charles County through western St. Louis County, east to Forest Park in St. Louis.
Construction could begin in March on a one-mile extension of the existing 2.2-mile Centennial Greenway in the county, beginning just east of the Heritage Museum. It’s expected to be finished in 2018. The paved greenway extension will stretch north and cross both Route 364 and Hwy. 94 where it will connect with Old Hwy. 94 near Muegge Road.
The new route will provide connections to Laurel, Schaefer and Wapelhorst parks; the McClay Branch of the St. Charles City-County Library; Francis Howell North High and Henderson Elementary – all less than two miles from the bridges.
The Centennial Greenway is one of 16 greenway areas being developed by Great Rivers Greenway the public parks district formed to create an interconnecting system of trails, greenways and parks throughout the greater St. Louis region.
Area voters approved a sales tax in 2000 to create “The River Ring” trail system along major streams and rivers in the area.
“It [the Centennial Greenway] will eventually be what I call a cross-county connector,” said Susan Trautman, executive director for Great Rivers Greenway.
Parts of the greenway in St. Louis County include a 3-mile section along Interstate 170 from the south side of Shaw Park to Olive Boulevard. Another 1.4-mile trail section stretches from Skinker Boulevard and Forsyth Boulevard at Forest Park across the Washington University campus along Kingsbury Avenue to Delmar Boulevard [at Melville Avenue] in the Loop Business District and north to Vernon Avenue.
In St. Charles County, the existing Centennial Greenway stretches from the Katy Trail near the Page Avenue extension [Route 364] to the Heritage Museum in Charles County. Included is a direct connection to the paved Creve Coeur Connector trail that crosses the Missouri River and links up with the paved trails and other attractions in Creve Coeur Park in St. Louis County.
While progress is on the horizon, Trautman said completing the greenway may take some time.
“There are a few more projects [that need to be completed] to get that done,” Trautman said. Decisions have to be made on whether rights-of-way can be acquired from public agencies or if the agency has to acquire it, she said.
She said Greenway projects in St Charles County may be slowed because of a lack of money. Only the 1/10-cent sale tax established in 2000 is in effect in the county.
In 2013, St. Louis City and County voters approved a 3/16-cent increase for projects there. She said St. Charles County could place a similar measure on the ballot for more funding. “But I don’t know what the tolerance for that is,” she added.
County residents, along with St. Charles City and County officials, who gathered at the open house, were enthusiastic about the plans they heard. The extension and bridges were praised by Saint Charles Mayor Sally Faith and County Executive Steve Ehlmann.
Great Rivers Greenway officials expect that the new bridges will be used extensively. Trautman said when a bicycle and pedestrian bridge was built across Interstate 44 in south St. Louis County, ridership went from 200,000 annually to more than 600,000. “When you create access you increase ridership,” she said.
“When we put out a questionnaire or survey for a new park area, what do people want – first on the list, without a doubt, consistently over the 15 years I have been here – trails, multi-use trails,” said Bettie Yahn-Kramer, St. Charles County’s park director. “People want to be able to move from place to place in between the parks, so this is a wonderful, wonderful possibility to do that.”
“I bike all the time,” said Wynne Wiegner, a St. Charles resident who attended the crowded open house. The trails provide a quiet, natural experience and may even expand transportation options for kids attending Francis Howell North High, he said.
Wiegner said he has 13 bicycles that often are used by his grandchildren now. “I try to get them to ride with me,” he said.