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Bugline trail rolls ahead, despite local opponents

Project enters final design phases

The Bugline Trail meanders over 12 miles from Menomonee Falls through Lannon, Lisbon and Sussex, and ends in Merton. It was built in the 1970s on the base of railroad tracks laid in 1890.

The Bugline Trail meanders over 12 miles from Menomonee Falls through Lannon, Lisbon and Sussex, and ends in Merton. It was built in the 1970s on the base of railroad tracks laid in 1890. Photo By Rick Wood

Aug. 31, 2012

Menomonee Falls - The Bugline Trail Improvement Project, years in the making, has neared its final design phase as it rolls toward construction in 2013.

Waukesha County has been working with various user groups to incorporate their thoughts and ideas into the final design for a project that pave 11.6 miles of the 14-mile trail. With an open house held in Sussex Wednesday, the public information meeting phase is now complete.

Using a railroad right of way most often associated with the Milwaukee Road, the Bugline trail begins at state Highway 175 in north Menomonee Falls and ends at the Ice Age recreation corridor in the Town of Merton. It connects the communities of Menomonee Falls, Sussex, Lannon, Lisbon and the Village and Town of Merton.

"This isn't just for Menomonee Falls - it connects all those places, which is about 70,000 residents," said Dave Burch, Waukesha County enterprise operations manager.

Trailing ahead

Burch said the most recent open house was an important component in planning in the trail's upgrade.

"It was great," Burch said. "There were a lot of good comments from people who were in support of the project and for people worried about the effects to the use. This is a multiuse trail, so we're doing our best to meet the needs of user groups in the design."

In the next month, the final design and permit documents will likewise be completed. Over the winter, the county will refine construction documents.

Then, in late spring and early summer, the project will go out for bid, with the bulk of construction occurring in 2013.

"We are doing our best in the design phase to accommodate the different user groups knowing we have to look ahead to the next 20 years," Burch said. "As we look decades from now to the next generations coming up, we try to plan ahead of what their needs might be."

Funds in place

Funding has already been secured for the project.

Construction of all 11.6 miles will cost an estimated $2.4 million. About $1.5 million will be paid through Federal Transportation Enhancement funding. Of the remaining $900,000, $250,000 will be funded by a State Stewardship grant, and Waukesha County will be responsible for the balance.

The project is meant to increase safety and accessibility for all trail users, and reduce ongoing maintenance costs.

Currently the county spends a plethora of labor hours using existing park staff to maintain the trail, including mowing the edges, picking up debris and smoothing loose gravel and pot holes, Burch said.

He said the improved trail would also be more accessible to people with disabilities.

"This project has been on the county's plans for many, many years and it's gone through a very public budget process," Burch said. "And this is being met with open arms around the nation as we try to build healthy and sustainable communities."

Lingering opposition

Hartford resident Bill Savage, an avid cyclist, prefers to bike on paved trails because it offers him a smoother ride. But the Bugline trail project doesn't exactly comfort him. In fact, he is adamantly opposed to it.

His opposition is tied to government spending that he and fellow members of the Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association, an outspoken group that recently emerged in issues surrounding the Menomonee Falls Radisson Hotel, believe should not be used on "unnecessary projects."

"We're about to ask seniors to work until they're 67 years old, and we're going to spend a million dollars paving a bike trail?" Savage, who is treasurer of the MFTA, said.

Savage said if additional funds exist, they should go back to the taxpayers and not to a trail project.

Steve Welcenbach, president of the taxpayers association, said the issue is an example of unnecessary spending, in part because existing trail users haven't demanded the trail be upgraded.

"It's one of the most heavily used recreation trails in the state all year-round, by bicyclists, hikers, runners and, in the wintertime, snowmobilers," Welcenbach said. "My personal experience - which is very broad in this area because I use this a lot personally - is that the users of the trail like it a lot and don't want it paved."

He added: "There's a lot of other paved trails in the county, so why do we need to pave it and spend this money when there are other priorities we can use our money on in the county?"

Welcenbach said the taxpayers group will continue its opposition. That includes resisting any federal money for the project.

"I don't think we need the federal government controlling the fate of the Bugline trail," he said.

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