West Allis — The city could be close to awarding a contract to pave the western-most mile of the long-awaited cross-town connector bike and pedestrian trail that would link up with trails going all the way to Madison and on to the Mississippi River.
The trail segment would be off-road from 124th Street east to 108th Street parallel to Greenfield Avenue coming out of Greenfield Park. It would be on an old interurban railroad bed. The segment would link up with the New Berlin recreation trail that connects with trails farther west.
The apparent low-construction bid for the section is $828,877 not including design, inspection and survey costs. The city's share would be 20 percent, or more than $165,700. The rest would come from federal grants.
City officials still will have to decide how to fund its share. The options include using federal Community Development Block Grant money or borrowing.
The construction contract could come to the council as early as Aug. 6. If approved, the trail segment could open as early as this fall.
Alderman Marty Weigel, an avid cyclist, said more bike trails would help people get exercise to fight health problems such as high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes by providing a safe place to ride for pleasure and even for errands.
It has been estimated at a third of car trips are less than two miles, he said.
'Two miles is not too far to ride a bike, but what keeps people from doing it is they don't feel safe (riding on streets),' Weigel said.
A bike trail also helps attract young first-time homebuyers, city officials found late last year at a meeting with realtors to see what the city could do to attract first-time homebuyers.
The city wants those homebuyers and the reason is obvious, he said.
'Would you rather have absentee landlords or homeowners?' he asked. .'
One of the realtors emphasized that first-time buyers hear a bike path is a couple blocks away and their eyes light up, Weigel said.
'That kind of surprised us,' admitted Alderman Tom Lajsic who attended the meeting.
But businesses like them too, he acknowledged.
'Some employees like to bike to work, especially with high gas prices,' he said.
The 124th to 108th street trail would be the first phase of a $3.1 million plan to extend the cross-town connector through West Allis to connect with the Hank Aaron bike trail, which goes all the way to the lakefront, at about 56th and Mineral streets.
Phases two and three to get the trail from 108th to 56th street would be even more expensive, said Alderman James Sengstock, who said they might have trouble getting through the council. Although the city has promises of federal dollars that would pay 80 percent of the total $3.1 million estimated cost for all three phases, what's left is still sizeable.
Other than funding, the big hold up on the trail has been crossing the Union Pacific Railroad tracks south of Highway 100. A break came when the zoo interchange work meant that a new freeway bridge had to be built over the tracks. That bridge could be constructed to leave enough room for the bike trail to pass underneath, enabling the trail to connect with 92nd Street, which has its own bridge over the tracks. The state and city are working on that plan.
The city also asked for railroad permission to cross a little-used spur. Officials were optimistic about getting cooperation.