Guest post by Rosanna Snyder of King County Parks
The sounds of trains rumbling along the retired Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad corridor on the east side of Lake Sammamish may be long gone, but cyclists are quickly filling a newly-paved 2.2-mile-long stretch with new sounds of gears shifting and bells chiming as they explore a smooth and safer section of trail. King County Parks reached an important project milestone this summer in its ambitious master plan to convert 11 miles of the former BNSF railroad corridor into the multi-use recreational East Lake Sammamish Trail (ELST). The highly anticipated Issaquah segment was reopened in June – just in time for an active cycling season during long summer days.
Trail users of all kinds – cyclists, pedestrians, joggers, skaters and others – are happy to see the interim gravel replaced with not only a smooth paved trail, but also a wider trail that makes overall safety and accessibility better for everyone. With two-foot soft surface shoulders on each side of the expanded 12-foot wide paved corridor, enhanced intersections, crossing treatments and drainage among the long list of improvements, the ELST is shaping up nicely. Soon enough, the ELST will no longer be considered the missing link in a 44-mile corridor that stretches from Puget Sound in Seattle to the Cascade Foothills.
At the other end of the 11-mile stretch, the Redmond segment was the first phase of the project, which was completed in 2011 and features a 77-vehicle parking lot — a welcome addition for King County’s most heavily used trails. Once the ELST is fully developed, a cyclist will be able to start a ride from Seattle’s urban Ballard neighborhood and continuously cruise on a dedicated, paved trail all the way to Issaquah.
The next steps in completing the ELST master plan are connecting the Redmond segment to the Issaquah segment along the east side of Lake Sammamish, which is the most complex part of the project and will be broken into three sections. Construction on the north Sammamish segment from 187th to Inglewood Hill Road is expected to begin in early 2014 followed by construction of the final south Sammamish segments that are currently in the preliminary stages of design.
“We’re very excited to see the momentum continue on this multi-year project as it addresses the needs of a fast growing cycling community,” said Kevin Brown, division director of King County Parks. “It will certainly have a positive economic impact on the connecting communities, too.”
More than 175 miles of regional trails throughout King County, including the ELST, are maintained by King County Parks and the long-term vision is to continue connecting more missing links to improve the regional trails system. King County is actively planning and developing a network of regional trails that will eventually total over 300 miles in length.
Construction of the Redmond and Issaquah segments were funded by the 2008-2013 voter-approved King County Open Space and Trails Levy, the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Future phases, including construction of the south Sammamish segment will be pending funding availability.