The Big Fix is in — for real. Beginning Aug. 1, major resurfacing and bridge work will shut down long stretches of the Lansing River Trail, including the entire eastern section from the Potter Park Zoo to Kalamazoo Street, until the end of November.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for avid trail users, but the work has never been more sorely needed. Nearly four years after Ingham County voters approved a Parks and Trails millage that brings in $3.4 million a year, the Lansing River Trail is still falling apart.
Users are getting a bumpier ride than ever, especially east of the Potter Park Zoo. Bank erosion has washed away part of the trail in a few troubled spots, with one lane temporarily fenced off near Moores River Park.
Lansing’s river trail pioneered the urban trail concept in the 1970s, building from a patchwork of city-owned easements along the river into more than 20 miles of trail, but by now it may be the worst maintained system in Michigan. The sections of the Lansing River Trail marked for total rebuilding got an average rating of 3.286 on the industry standard PASER scale, which ranks pavement from 10 (excellent) to 1 (failing) — and that was almost two years ago.
One crumbling, flood-prone juncture between Aurelius Road and the Potter Park Zoo was patched last fall, but the patch was washed away in a February flood. The trouble spot is set for a $1.8 million combined bridge extension and trail repair that was supposed to be done by the end of 2017.
“The glory of our system is that it’s on the river, but water can really mess with us,” Lansing Parks Director Brett Kaschinske said. “We’re going to lift that bridge a bit, about three and a half feet, and extend it further to the east.”
Two more bridges between Potter Park Zoo and Clippert Street will be totally replaced this fall and about 13 miles of trail will be resurfaced.
But the Big Fix has taken much longer to mobilize than county and city officials expected.
In March 2017, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners set aside $5.5 million of the first two years’ worth of millage money to repair or replace 13-plus miles of pavement and 21 bridges in Lansing, East Lansing and Meridian Township, along with two erosion control projects.
Most of the repairs were scheduled to be finished by last fall or spring of this year, in time for summer use, but little has been done so far in Lansing. The most conspicuous project finished so far is a sloping, curved entry ramp to the trail from Kalamazoo Street, perhaps the least necessary of improvements. (There is already an entry ramp, though it’s not as inviting, across Kalamazoo Street.)
Kaschinske said the delays were caused mainly by the logistics of getting so many projects done at once. Taken together, the 20-plus projects that make up the “Big Fix” pose an even bigger job than the construction of the trail itself, which took place in smaller segments, over decades. To keep costs and trail closures at a minimum, all the bridge work was scheduled to be done simultaneously, as were the resurfacing and erosion control projects. They also had to be coordinated with each other.
“The city has received more than $4 million for trail improvement, so this is big,” Kaschinske said. “We don’t want to go back and ask for more funds because we went over budget. You go over by only 10 percent, you’re talking a ton of cash.”
The caved-in area near Moores River may be trickier. Engineers will replace the failed Gabion baskets (metal mesh bags of rocks) along the banks with a more lasting barrier.
After the current repair phase, the way will be clear for a series of long-awaited extensions and new connections, as Ingham County grows its web of non-motorized trails. In March, the county board approved the first in a series of new projects, sifting through $10 million in requests from municipalities and awarding $3 million in grants.
Delhi Towship got a grant for engineering and design of a highly anticipated extension to the current trail system, from Holt to Mason.
Melissa Buzzard, Ingham county’s trails and parks millage coordinator, called it a “exciting start” to a “complicated project.”
Meridian Charter Township got a grant for a pedestrian boardwalk near Okemos Road, crossing Mud Lake Drain as it passes through Meridian Township Park property, the final link in a 5-mile non-motorized route along the east side of Okemos.
The 2018 grants will also fund accessible kayak/canoe launches at the City Market, Moores Park and Kreuger Landing, and a limestone resurfacing of the Lakelands Trail in southern Ingham County, with a trailhead in Stockbridge, currently an intermittently sandy equestrian trail. The Lakelands Trail is a segment of the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail, a mega-trail that will eventually run across the state of Michigan, from Port Huron to Grand Haven.
The county is accepting a third round of grant applications from cities and townships now, with a deadline of August 31.
For further information on trail closures this summer and fall, Kaschinske advised checking the Friends of the Lansing Regional Trails web site.