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Issues of the Environment: Border-to-Border Trail in Washtenaw County to expand another three miles in 2022

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Washtenaw County
/
washtenaw.org
Peter Sanderson

Overview

  • One of the county’s premier projects is the Border-to-Border Trail (B2B). Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (WCPARC) has led the multi-agency effort to develop the Border to Border Trail (B2B Trail) since its inception in the late 1990s. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.washtenaw.org/334/Border-to-Border-Trail)
  • WCPARC has completed 36 of 54 miles of trails within the county. Peter Sanderson, principal park planner for Washtenaw County's Parks and Recreation, says the remaining segments are the most challenging to build. 
  • Last year, 3 miles were built (projects located in Ypsilanti, City of Ann Arbor, and Lima Township (between Dexter and Chelsea)). Three miles of construction is planned for 2022: 
  1. Chelsea and M-52 [2 projects]
  2. Dexter-Chelsea extension
  3. East of Dexter from Zeeb Road to Delhi Metropark (completes the connection between all Metroparks in the county)
  • In addition, planning and engineering are occurring on multiple projects, most notably the Barton-Bandemer Underpass in the City of Ann Arbor to build a tunnel under the railroad to connect Huron River Drive and Bandemer Park on the northwest side of the city.
  • Regional partners and the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative are working to complete connections in Jackson, Ingham, and Wayne Counties as part of the State Iron Belle Trail (IBT). To better gage use of the non-motorized routes,  more permanent bike/ped counters are being placed to analyze and quantify trail use. 
  • Peter Sanderson points out that the B2B supports the County’s Climate Action plan (under development) and the City of Ann Arbor’s adopted carbon neutrality plan (A2 Zero). Key reasons are:
  1. Goal is to connect Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Dexter, and Chelsea with the non-motorized trail route, providing a safe route to connect people and destinations
  2. Creates a “spine” of a nonmotorized transportation corridor as part of the broader nonmotorized infrastructure network
  3. Key destinations along or very near the B2B are some of our largest job centers including Michigan Medicine, UM North & Central Campus, St. Joe’s Health Systems, Concordia College, WCC Campus, EMU Campus, and central business districts of several cities.

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're getting to the time of year where more people get outside for leisure and activity. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to Issues of the Environment. This week, we're going to take a look at the Border to Border Trail in Washtenaw County. The initiative launched back in the late 1990s and continues to create more connectivity between communities, and the work to get to completion is going onward. Our guest this week is Peter Sanderson. Peter is principal park planner for the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department, which has led the multi-agency Border to Border Trail project since its inception. Thank you so much for the time today, Peter.

Peter Sanderson: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Do you like to get out to walk or bike portions of the trail yourself?

Peter Sanderson: Oh, absolutely. I use the trail on a regular basis. I'm a runner and cyclist myself, so my local sections, the Gallup Park Trail in Ann Arbor.

David Fair: And are you a winter person? Do you still go out in the winter? I personally hibernate and people make fun of me for it, but nonetheless, there are people like me out there.

Peter Sanderson: Oh, I try to get out when I can. But, you know, sometimes the Michigan weather is just a little too much.

David Fair: I'm right with you. From the broad environmental perspective, Peter, the longer the trail, the more kind of activity created, the more that people use it. That all plays into diminished greenhouse gases. Is it a significant contributor in helping get Washtenaw County to carbon neutral by 2035?

Peter Sanderson: We think it will be. We don't have specific data on that, but we are working to install bicycle and pedestrian counters across the county in partnership with WATS--the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study--to try and quantify the trail usage and analyze the use patterns. You know, is it used for recreation or commuting? Right now, we only have two permanent counters that are installed in the Dexter area, and the use is trending up significantly, especially with 2020. You know, our numbers are showing, you know, from 2018, we had about 277,000 passes by the sensors in Dexter. And, in 2020 it was 424,000. So, that's a pretty significant increase over just a two-year period.

David Fair:WEMU's Issues of the Environment conversation with Washtenaw County Parks and Rec planner Peter Sanderson continues. 36 miles of the Border to Border trail has been completed, with plans for creating at least 18 more. Last year, three more miles were added. Was that the plan, or did pandemic issues slow the work down some in 2021?

Peter Sanderson: Well, I think we've been keeping our progress steady, which is our goal. We want to keep making progress. These projects take several years, usually, to move from planning through the engineering process and permitting into the construction phase. Historically, our average has been about one mile per year, so doing three miles per year is a significant increase. And that's due in part to the millage that was passed by Washtenaw County voters in 2016 and 2020 to help with roads and trails and our partners at the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative, a nonprofit group who's been doing significant fundraising to help us construct the trail.

David Fair: Last year's project included ones in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Lima Township, if I remember correctly. What did that add to the overall community connectivity via the trail?

Peter Sanderson: So, the one in Chelsea area, that's a big connection to make into the city coming into the northwest side along M-52 connects into nearly five miles of trail that was built since 2018, and this closes the gap to connect into the downtown area. And now, we're working with the city to do some signs and route finding to connect that trail through the Central Business District and out over to the Lima Township section, which enters into the city on the East Side along Freer Road. So, that one's a big addition in connectivity. The other one that really made a big difference is in the city of Ann Arbor. We rebuilt a mile section of trail in partnership with the city in Gallup Park. That was an old section of trail. I think it was constructed in the 80s. It really improved the capacity of the trail. We widened it from eight feet to 10 feet and we used, you know, a concrete surface as opposed to asphalt, which should increase the longevity and reduce maintenance costs into the future.

David Fair: So, this year, there are three more miles of construction plans. Where are the projects going to take place?

Peter Sanderson: So, in the northwest side of the county, up in Lyndon Township, we hope to extend the trail by about a mile along M-52. So that project that we're working on last year connecting into the city of Chelsea, that's got a little bit of wrap up this year. But then we hope to extend the northern end of that. So, that'll turn that into about a seven-mile long section of trail northwest of Chelsea that connects to the city. The Green Lake campground, which is operated by the DNR, the DTE Energy Foundation mountain bike trail system that's out there--there's a lot of neat stuff out in Lyndon Township. The other one is we hope to extend some of the work just west of Dexter in Lima Township where we're working to connect the cities of Dexter and Chelsea. That's not a direct connection into either of the cities yet, but that should be coming in the next couple of years. And then, one of the big pieces of construction that we have that should be happening this year is in Scio Township. We hope to start construction this summer on a section of trail that is starting at Zeeb Road and Huron River Drive and connecting to Delhi Metropark. So, the completion of that project will connect all three metroparks in Washtenaw County with the Border to Border trail with the city of Dexter right at the center.

David Fair: The more that you and I talk, the more ambitious I realize these plans and these projects really are. Have you actually looked and projected out as to when the full 56 miles will be done?

Peter Sanderson: Oh, I don't have a hard date for you yet, but we are working diligently to try and keep that progress going. And, you know, we hope to be done, you know, in the 2020s would be our goal and sooner is better. Right now, there's a lot of momentum in terms of priorities at the local and state levels that are opening up some funding opportunities through grants. And so, we hope to keep going. We have a lot of the pieces aligned, and the planning work has been done. And now, it's a matter of working through the legal side, so, you know, the environmental permitting and regulatory compliance and things like that as we are building the trail sections out. But, usually, that takes between 12 and 24 months just to go through the permitting process for one project.

David Fair: Once again, this is Issues of the Environment on WEMU, and we're talking with Washtenaw County Parks and Rec principal park planner Peter Sanderson about the Border to Border trail. Now, we have seen prices for everything this year skyrocket, and that includes fuel. Is it possible that the cost of fuel diminishes the ability to accomplish as much as you would like over the course of this coming construction season?

Peter Sanderson: We hope not. We definitely build a contingency into our project budgets, but we haven't gotten our construction bids back for the season yet. We have one big project that should be getting bids in May or June. And so, I guess we'll see where those numbers come in. One of the strategies that we've been using to try and mitigate that is using bid alternatives, which is why the Gallup Park Trail and some of our projects in Chelsea and Dexter are actually now constructed from concrete as opposed to asphalt. We've been using a bid alternative and using price comparisons between the two different materials and concrete has been coming in less expensive, and it's more durable in the long run. That's not, historically, been the case, but it is right now. And so, that's one of the ways we're trying to keep our projects on budget and on track.

David Fair: Ultimately, the county Border to Border trail is designed to connect to pathways that will better connect significant portions of the state. Am I right on that?

Peter Sanderson: That's right. It is part of the statewide Iron Belt Trail Initiative, and we're working to connect in Wayne County and through Jackson and Ingham Counties up to Stockbridge, trying to make a big regional connection here in Southeast Michigan.

David Fair: Clearly, this is a passion project for you, Peter. What do you love best about what the Border to Border trail is today and what you anticipate it becoming?

Peter Sanderson: Well, that's a good question, I think what I like most about it today is just seeing the diversity of use. You know, you get everybody from marathon trainers to, you know, kids riding their balance bike to people using it in wheelchairs to access parts of nature and see parks that they may not otherwise be able to do. So, I think that I just really like to see how the community uses the trail. And, for me, I hope that continues. I would like to see it become a little bit more of a commuter route as we complete some of the sections into the future because it does go by some of our largest employers in the county: The University of Michigan campuses, the hospital, Washtenaw Community College, EMU, St. Joe's Hospital, Concordia College. That's a large percentage of our county's employment. And so, I think that there's opportunities there to use this as a safe route for commuting, and, hopefully, that helps the county accomplish some of their carbon neutrality goals into the future.

David Fair: I'd like to thank you very much for the time and the insights today, Peter. I appreciate it.

Peter Sanderson: Well, thank you for having me.

David Fair: That was Peter Sanderson, principal park planner for Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and HD One Ypsilanti.

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Nearly three-quarters of David Fair’s 20+ years in radio has been at WEMU. Since 1994, he has been on the air at 5am each weekday on 89.1 FM as the local host of NPR’s Morning Edition. Over the years, Fair has had the opportunity to interview nationally and internationally known politicians, activists and celebrities. But he feels the most important features and interviews have been with those who live and work here at home. He believes his professional passions and desires fit perfectly into WEMU’s commitment to serving a local audience.
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