The Vermillion City Council was presented four options for dealing with problems that have plagued the city’s bike/jogging trail that runs along the Vermillion River in the southern portion of the city.
It decided to pursue the least expensive option it was presented at its noon meeting at city hall Monday. This option has an estimated price tag of $230,000.
This plan calls for moving the trail significantly away from the river by using the Morse Street right of way to construct a new north/south trail that would run along Nutrien Ag Services property in lower Vermillion. A new portion of trail running east and west would also be constructed along the southern boulevard of Broadway Street to link with the new north/south trail on the Morse Street right of way.
“One of the original ideas that we have discussed a while back is essentially moving up Morse Street and then going around the Nutrien facility and staying along the south side of Broadway all the way to the current trail head along West Street,” City Engineer Jose Dominguez told city council members Monday.
“This year we would be using Morse Street -- there is no street there, but we do have an 80-foot right of way all the way from Broadway to the river, so we do have that available,” he said.
With this option, the trail runs along Nutrien Ag Services property.
“We would have to work with Nutrien,” Dominguez said, “and we would want to work with them regardless just because they have a lot of equipment and they have a lot of truck traffic that might pose a hazard to bike traffic and pedestrians. They have also expressed concerns with the general public walking by all of the equipment that they have.”
Higher than usual channel flows in a stretch of the Vermillion River that flows through the southern edge of the city of Vermillion have caused the river’s banks to erode and threaten areas of the community’s bike path.
The path was built a reasonable distance from the river several years ago so that bikers, joggers and walkers could enjoy a scenic vista.
It turns out that Mother Nature, in recent years, is redefining exactly what a reasonable distance is and it’s not what city planners could have imagined four years ago. Portions of the path have had to be closed, with some stretches now located dangerously close to the river’s northern bank due to erosion caused by heavy rains.
More water has been flowing into the river channel in recent years as more buildings have been constructed in Vermillion, including large apartments with large parking lots that are causing increasing amounts of water to flow into the Vermillion River.
Dominguez said city officials had discussed the option with Nutrien of having a bike trail run along the south side and west side of their property, with possibly the city erecting a fence along the trail in that area so that people can’t enter into that property.
With the option, the trail would continue from the Nutrien property and run east and west on the south boulevard of Broadway.
“The boulevard is wide enough for the trail to be there,” he said. “We would have to move some of the utilities as far as hydrants and pedestals that might be in the way and that would be pretty minor.”
On the proposed west end of the trail, the city would have to acquire construction easements from a private property owner.
“We haven’t talked to them about this because it was never discussed with them before,” Dominguez said, “but I don’t foresee them being difficult to work with to get a temporary construction easement.”
The city of Vermillion utilizes pictometry, a system that captures aerial images of the community, and Dominguez projected images of the Vermillion River on a large screen in the conference room of the Vermillion City Hall where aldermen met Monday.
The images showed striking differences in the Vermillion River channel, with it widening significantly in some places over the past four years or so.
“You can start seeing some of the areas that were flooded originally and how much the bank actually eroded away in some locations,” he said. “This issue that we have here is something that we don’t foresee going away. We think that if it’s not going to happen within five years it's definitely going to happen with 10 -- you’re going to have portions of this bike path that are going to be deemed unsafe because of how close they are to the water’s edge or to the actual river bank.”
The aerial image shows a portion of the trail that had been moved away from the river because of safety concerns several years ago. When that construction was finished, the trail was approximately 10 feet away from the river. Today, that area is about two feet away.
“This is going to happen throughout the whole corridor,” Dominguez said, “and that’s just on the portion that’s on the west side of Dakota Street. If you go on the other side of Dakota Street, you also have similar issues … this is something we’re going to have to be addressing throughout the years in Vermillion.
“We have ideas for a lot of these places. None of these ideas include armoring the banks (of the river) or anything like that. We’re going to have to do a lot of hard thinking about how to relocate this (the trail) and what to do with it,” he said.
Dominguez presented aldermen with three other options for the trail. One option included simply abandoning the trail which would require the city to pay back $365,000 in transportation funds it has received for the trail’s construction.
Another option called for acquiring an additional 75 to 100 feet of easement to move the trail farther from the bank, but that acquisition could be costly, lengthy and with possible litigation. It has an estimated total cost of $365,000.
A fourth option Dominguez presented called for abandoning the trail and trail head west of Morse Street, acquiring four lots of property, constructing a new trail using the Morse Street right of way and constructing a new trailhead with a parking lot.
This proposal would likely require the city to pay back $185,000 in funding it has received for the trail construction, bringing the total cost of this option to $445,000.
“Regarding the FHWA portion of it, what I need to know is if you guys are more interested in any of these options that I’ve presented,” Dominguez said, “and the reason that I’m asking is that I have to have a meeting with the DOT tomorrow. They want to know what we’re going to be doing.”
FHWA is the Federal Highway Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation that supports state and local governments in the design, construction and maintenance of the nation's highway system.
“To me, the one that sticks out as the one that we should do is the one that’s significantly less expensive,” Alderman Kelsey Collier-Wise said, referring to the option with the $230,000 estimated cost. “The only thing I wonder is, to your last point, is there kind of a cost thing here where spending this $230,000 is obligating us to spend more later as this continues to deteriorate, or is there a world where we’re better off paying back what we’ve done and just saying ‘we thought this was a good idea. It’s not. Let’s start from scratch and just stop putting money into something that’s just eventually going to fall in.’”
“My opinion would be to start moving the trail, whether in sections or as a whole, towards Broadway Street or away from the river,” Dominguez said.
The $230,000 option would be step towards that goal.
“We also looked at the option of moving it onto the street and that would be more of a political land mine because you would be removing parking from more than likely both sides of the street,” he said.
Broadway Street also narrows in its western portion.
“It goes from a 42-foot wide street to a 30-foot wide street,” Dominguez said. “At that point, you have to widen the street on the south side. You can’t widen it on the north because you have the railroad right there.