CEMAR Trail Funding

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A paved bicycle trail connecting Marion and Cedar Rapids got a $2.5 million funding boost Thursday from the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The CEMAR Trail was suggested 10 years ago by then-Cedar Rapids Streets Commissioner Don Thomas, but it’s never been completed. A month ago, that fact helped prompt the Cedar Rapids-dominated planning organization — which controls about $4 million a year in federal funds — to decide to use 80 percent of that money on trails and bike lanes rather than street projects.

On Thursday, the group unanimously voted to commit $2.5 million of its discretionary funds in fiscal 2016 to complete the 2.8-mile stretch.

The trail will connect Cedar Rapids’ heavily used Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake to Marion. It will run along an old railroad line through older sections of northeast Cedar Rapids, then under First Avenue East at about 31st Street Drive SE and on to Marion.

The Cedar Rapids portion of the trail is being built in three segments. The middle section, from 20th to 29th streets NE, was built in 2010.

The first section, from the Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake to 20th Street NE, has been slowed because of problems purchasing a trail easement through the former Terex Cedar Rapids industrial site at 909 17th St. NE. Progress is being made on that complication, city engineer and public works Director Dave Elgin said Thursday.

The third section is complicated by the need to get under, over or around First Avenue East, though the preferred plan is to go under, added Rob Davis, the city’s engineering operations manager.

Elgin said the city already has the money for some of the first segment; the $2.5 million from the planning group will pay for the rest and will fund the third segment as well. Davis estimated that the first segment will be completed in one or two years, and the third piece will follow.

At the city limits, the paved CEMAR trail will come close to crushed limestone trail segments in Marion, officials there told the planning organization.

Samantha Dahlby, a Cedar Rapids member of the planning group, said the funding commitment fit the organization’s decision-making criteria because it connects to the backbone of the metro trail system, the Cedar River Trail, and because it connects two member cities. Elgin said the group’s 2040 transportation plan named the CEMAR Trail as the top funding priority.

Monica Vernon, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and the chairwoman of the planning group, called the CEMAR Trail “one of the longest-running, talked-about trails we’ve had around here.”

Also at the top of the organization’s priority list for trails is the need to provide $1.3 million to fix the existing Cedar River Trail, which has some sections that are now 15 years old.