The city of Durango and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad came to an agreement last week that will allow the extension of the River Trail from 32nd Street north to the city limits near the Iron Horse. It is a solution to celebrate, one that should benefit the entire community.
The list of direct beneficiaries includes the railroad and the city, but the folks probably most happy for it are those living along Animas View Drive. They, more than anyone, will gain from having a safe, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly connection to the rest of town.
The railroad's owner, Al Harper, agreed to allow the city to build the trail extension next to the D&SNG tracks. The new section of trail would extend from its current end point at 32nd Street for 2.1 miles to the city limits just north of the Iron Horse.
With that agreement, the city expects to save years of design work that would be needed if it had to plan another route. And, while the city will pay the railroad $1 million over four years, that is thought to be much less than what otherwise would have been spent on negotiating with other landowners.
It also will not require any new money. Revenue from a half-cent sales tax increase approved by the voters in 1999 is split between the Rec Center and the River Trail. Although in the current economy that could be down, the "99 money," as it sometimes is called, had been projected to total $3.8 million this year.
All of which means the new portion of the trail can be completed that much sooner. That is welcome news.
Although it has not yet been decided on which side of the tracks the trail would lie, it would be next to the tracks on the west side of the Animas River. That puts the trail close to and generally parallel to Animas View Drive. The first section slated to be built would tie Pioneer Park, at 37th Street and East Second Avenue, to Animas View Drive.
That is an area the city has allowed to be developed densely without making or requiring commensurate improvements to the road. With no sidewalks, no bike lanes and increasing traffic, residents of that neighborhood have been asking that the River Trail be extended for some time.
It is far more than a desire for an amenity. It is a question of safety, transportation and access. Animas View Drive is neither comfortable nor convenient for bicyclists or pedestrians, especially not young ones. But with the trail connected to the north end of town, people who live along that street can safely let their children walk, bike, scooter or skate to Durango High School, the Rec Center, the new library or downtown. Eventually, the trail will tie the area to Wal-Mart and beyond. And with the contrast between negotiating North Main traffic and the enjoyment of walking or riding along the river, as in other parts of town, use of the trail hardly will be limited to youths.
All in all, this is a good deal that should be applauded citywide. There is no better way to tie this community together than the River Trail and no better way to get around in it. Thanks to all involved.