Since word spread that the Bugline Trail would be paved by 2014, both opponents and proponents of the project immediately emerged and debate continues in public meetings.
But the last several months have shown that the positions held by people on both sides of the project have wavered minimally. Wednesday’s informational meeting about the project in Sussex demonstrated both supporters and objectors remain crystallized in their positions about the $2.4 million project to pave the Bugline after months of debate.
Wednesday’s meeting was informational, and it was a chance for county officials to gather feedback from county residents regarding the project. About 30 residents attended. Regardless, the project will move forward in 2013, and feedback was solicited to alter or adapt any plans.
Pros and Cons
Supporters of the project continue to contend that paving the Bugline – currently a crushed limestone trail – would expand accessibility of the trail for every type of user in Waukesha County. Handicapped residents, rollerbladers, families with strollers, and the elderly would have easier access to the 14-mile trail if it had a paved surface.
“I support the paving because it opens up the trail to a lot more user groups. The parks are supposed to be for everyone,” said Ron Stawicki, co-founder of the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance. “It fits into the county bike plan, and makes it a lot easier to get around the area by bike.”
Stawicki logs more than 200 miles a week on his bicycle, and rides a 25-mile, round-trip commute from Waukesha to Delafield every day. He helped establish the WBA to encourage more residents to get on their bicycles and enjoy the rides throughout the county.
However, opponents still argue that paving the Bugline Trail would ruin its aesthetics, and limit use for people who like to snowmobile or ride horses. More forcefully, opponents say it ultimately comes down to the bottom line – it’s a project that isn’t demanded and isn’t fiscally responsible to fund right now.
“I haven’t heard one person who wants it,” said Falls resident Jon Andrus. “We are taxed enough and we have other roads that need repairs. We’re in a recession. Who will pay for the upkeep of this?”
For county officials, the time was right to pave the trail. Roughly $1.5 million of the project cost would be funded by a Federal Transportation Enhancement grant, and another $250,000 would be funded by stewardship grants from the state. The remaining $650,000 would be funded through the county’s capital improvements budget.
“We’ve wanted to a have a paved Bugline Trail since 1983, but at the time we didn’t have the funding to pave it,” said David Burch, Waukesha County Enterprise Operations Manager. “It was always meant as a multiple use trail, and was meant to accommodate the needs of everyone of the county as it grew.”
The project would be completed in two phases, with the first phase due to start in 2013, and the second in 2014. The trail would be 10-feet wide, and include a limestone side path for other users.
“It’s not like the federal money would just go back into the coffers if we refused it,” Burch said. “That money will just be given to another community, and we are benefitting the citizens of the county by using those funds.”
Wear and Tear
According to county engineering officials at the meeting, the life expectancy of the trail can hover between 15 and 20 years. But with regular preventative maintenance, that life could be extended.
Eventual replacement costs would be a fraction of the initial installation costs as well. Estimates have ranged and roughly 30 to 40 percent of installation costs.
The life of the trail has snowmobile enthusiasts worried, however. Although the current regulations for snowmobiling on the Bugline would remain the same – enthusiasts worry that their machines will tear up the pavement over time. They believe inevitably they would be kicked off the trail.
“We just want to keep the trail natural. They say our snowmobiles wouldn’t damage the trail, but over time they will. Once they see that, we’ll eventually be prevented from using the trail,” Andrus said. “When we go on snowmobile runs, we frequent all the businesses along the route and spend a lot of money.”
Andrus said he and other snowmobilers wouldn’t mind the paving project if the trail’s paved width was reduced to 5 feet rather than 10 feet. Thus, leaving more room for a limestone trail and snowmobiles.
“Why can’t we just compromise?” Andrus asked.
Since the trail utilizes federal funds, it must adhere to minimum mandated widths in order to use the funds. Therefore, the 10-foot mark is set in stone – no pun intended.
Petition Preventing Paving
Earlier in August, Falls resident Joan Griffin submitted just under 1,000 signatures to office of Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas. The signatures were gathered from residents that opposed the project. Griffin isn’t sure what impact that will have on the future of the project.
“We just handed it in and I’m not even sure if they looked at it. I’m not sure what effect it will have,” Griffin said. “We’re just asking people who are opposed to this project to contact their officials so they see this opposition.”
Burch said the county will review the petition, but added the Bugline is open to all residents in the county, and connects some 70,000 people to various communities along its stretch.
“We will consider the petition, but it represents .003 of our county’s population,” Burch said. “We are hearing from a majority of user groups that this is a good idea. We will pause and take their concerns into consideration, and we are trying to meet with everyone we can.”
Burch said the long term vision of the Bugline Trail is to connect it to other trails throughout Waukesha County. He said securing and improving transportation channels like the Bugline is key in both the present and in the future.
“In 50 years, who knows what purpose the Bugline will serve? We may find an entirely new mode of transportation that can be deployed on pathways like the Bugline,” Burch said. “We always need to ensure we can accommodate our growing population.”