Lexington could get back passenger rail along the Town Branch Trail!


Dear friends:

In the spring of 2007 Town Branch Trail, Inc. brought together a few architects to sketch out what might be possible in the back of Rupp Arena where the Newtown Pike Extension will run across the Town Branch Creek over to to Versailles Road and beyond. As a lark we called it “NEW TOWN BRANCH” because the Newtown Extension has no real ‘newtown’ destination (it’s a wide spot in Scott County) and because it was crossing the Town Branch where we could create a new section of Downtown. We felt that this is some of the most important 10 acres of land in all of Lexington because: A) it is new road frontage on what will be our busiest urban corridor, B) it is currently an urban dead zone where Downtown can grow to connect with Town Branch Trail and the Distillery District, and C) because it is where we can create a railroad depot attached to the Lexington Center that can carry passengers into our gorgeous countryside to Midway, Frankfort, and beyond.

We pitched the urban design ideas to the Mayor, DDA, RJ Corman, and several other groups and individuals… whoever else would listen. It was not clear at the time that all the moving parts could be brought into an optimal resolution. We are thrilled that the leadership of the LFUCG, Lexington Center, RJ Corman, and the Newtown Pike Extension have been so receptive and responsive. It gives us great cause for optimism about Lexington’s future. Below is a story sketching out one component of what is still a developing plan. What is equally exciting is that the LCC will be creating a small area plan to look at all of the potential for this very important new district of downtown. Let’s hope there will be ample opportunity for public input.

For a look at the 3-D model we produced in spring of 2007 go to:


The H-L article from a few weeks ago is attached below:

Dinner train possible from Lexington to Frankfort and beyond

Lexington Herald-Leader June 19, 2009
By Beverly Fortune – bfortune@herald-leader.com

A dinner train with boarding at Lexington Center and an excursion train between Lexington and beyond Frankfort could be in operation as early as next year, with the potential for passenger service between the two cities later.

The announcement was made Thursday at the Lexington Center board meeting by Fred Mudge, chairman of the board of R.J. Corman Railroad Group, based in Nicholasville.

The railroad came seeking permission to negotiate a long-term lease with Lexington Center to extend its tracks under a new bridge that will be built over Cox Street and Town Branch and 700 feet onto Lexington Center’s Cox Street parking lot.

Corman needs the additional space for turning trains around because a portion of its rail yard — on the west side of Cox Street — will be taken by Phase 4 of the Newtown Pike extension.

Extending the track makes it possible for a passenger train to get closer to downtown, the convention center, hotels and existing parking.

And that opens the opportunity for Corman to run a dinner train and an excursion train. The railroad currently operates My Old Kentucky Dinner Train out of Bardstown.
A dinner train from Lexington would most likely go to Frankfort, turn around and come back, Mudge said. An excursion trip might extend to Bagdad, a small community west of Frankfort, then return to Lexington.

“Taking the track onto Lexington Center property would not prevent us from using the Cox Street lot for parking,” said Bill Owen, president and chief executive officer of Lexington Center.

Neither would it diminish other uses for the lot, such as the July 4 Red White & Boom concert. In recent years, an amphitheater, IMAX screen and a farmers market have been talked about for the Cox Street site.

And it creates possibilities for marketing train excursions to convention attendees.
“I don’t think this precludes anything the Lexington Center wants to do there,” said Mike W. Hancock, state highway engineer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Owen said that he “enthusiastically” supported the railroad’s request.

A dinner train could be the first step toward establishing passenger service between Lexington and Louisville. “Corman has conveyed to us their desire to start construction right away and create the opportunity for passenger train service as soon as possible,” Owen said.

An excursion train could travel the existing freight track between Winchester and Louisville. For higher-speed passenger service, the line would have to be upgraded extensively, an expensive proposition, Mudge said.

The Corman Group operates six small, private railroad lines in Kentucky.
A contract for work on Newtown Pike, including the Cox Street bridge, will be awarded in July. Construction is expected to begin shortly after that, said James E. Ballinger, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The new bridge will extend from near the Salvation Army property on West Main Street, over Town Branch, to Manchester Street, paralleling the Jefferson Street viaduct.

“It became apparent if we provided clearance under the (Cox Street) bridge for train cars, there could be benefits to the city,” Hancock said.
What opportunities might open up for regular passenger service between Lexington and other cities “we don’t even know” at this time, Hancock said. But if gas prices continue to climb and there is a limit to the number of cars on highways, there will be a future for rail traffic, he said.

High-speed rail plans in the Midwest and California appear to be frontrunners for getting $8 billion in stimulus money, according to federal criteria released on Wednesday.

Eight Midwest states have cooperated to promote a network of rail lines, with Chicago as the hub, that would join 12 metropolitan areas within 400 miles. Louisville and Cincinnati would be part of that network.

Passenger service is not part of the Lexington plans, Owen said, but the city should position itself to take advantage if an opportunity comes along.
Extending the tracks creates “some sizzle for the present, a lot of potential for the future,” Owen said.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a Lexington Center board member, said it was important to address “current and future opportunities of integrating the railway with the downtown, the civic center, the Manchester Street Distillery District and the Town Branch Trail.”
The Lexington Center board voted to include a request for a consultant to do a small area plan for the Cox Street area; at the same time, it backed the idea of negotiating a long-term lease with R.J. Corman.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251.

Town Branch Trail a top priority of Commerce Lexington


Dear Friends of Town Branch Trail,

I had a great opportunity to visit a world-class trail city recently on a trip to Madison Wisconsin with 258 other folks from Lexington on a Commerce Lexington Leadership Trip. It was a great chance to take in a city that has invested heavily in trails and has a great quality of life to show for it. This is the fourth leadership trip that I have attended on behalf of Town Branch Trail, Inc. and it has been a fantastic opportunity to advocate for trails in places where they have been so successfully exploited. I want to share with you a letter written on behalf of Commerce Lexington by Woodford Webb, current board chair. In it he lists the priorities generated by the trip attendees and how Town Branch Trail is recognized as one of the most important initiatives underway in Lexington. What is equally exciting is that Town Branch Trail is an integral component of a number of other great projects like Legacy Trail, Lexington Distillery District, and Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden! Connectivity and cooperation to make Lexington all it can be! Many thanks to Commerce Lexington for its creative trips that have greatly raised public awareness for the importance of trails.

Van Meter Pettit, AIA

Forwarded letter from Woodford Webb, Commerce Lexington Chair below:


I would like to personally thank those of you who participated in this year’s Leadership Visit. I hope you enjoyed the trip and learned a lot of great things from Madison. Some of you may have received this yesterday, but not everyone who went to Madison is on Commerce Lexington Inc.’s main e-mail distribution list. I wanted to make sure you were properly thanked.

As the 2009 Commerce Lexington Inc. Leadership Visit came to a close on May 20th at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, I couldn’t help but think about all that we had seen and done while in Madison, Wisconsin. We heard from many of Madison’s most influential leaders and entrepreneurs and saw first-hand what Madison offers its residents by participating in tours of its most recognizable features.

Still, I continued to come back to presenting sponsor Linda Rumpke’s “I” for “implementation” pledge, which she mentioned at the opening of our Madison visit. Yes, we recognize that Bluegrass Region is a great place to live and work, but how do we make it even better? How do we leverage what we’ve got so that more young people want to stay in Lexington, start a business in Lexington, or raise a family here? As generational consultant Rebecca Ryan said, “What do we want to be homesick for?”

While we hope to take a few ideas from the cities we visit, these trips enable us to take a hard look at ourselves as a community. We all agree that there is plenty that we can improve about the Bluegrass, but the annual Leadership Visit also opens our eyes to the things that we are doing well. Sometimes we overlook the positive steps we’ve taken as we become embroiled in the things we believe are wrong with our city.

According to Rebecca Ryan’s “Seven Indexes of a NEXT City,” Lexington’s scores met or exceeded the average scores of most of its benchmark cities, and in the categories of Cost of Lifestyle and Earnings, Lexington is ahead of Madison. However, we still have work to do within the other five indexes, including Vitality, Learning, Social Capital, After Hours, and Around Town, to become that “NEXT” city.

Many people don’t realize that many wonderful things that are related to those five indexes are already occurring. In the area of Vitality, Lexington has made a commitment to building more bike and walking trails, and the city is making major strides to improve its water quality for the future. In the area of Learning, FCPS Superintendent Stu Silberman’s efforts have been well documented, the University of Kentucky is well on its way to becoming a Top 20 research university, and Dr. Michael Karpf is guiding the new soon-to-be completed University of Kentucky Hospital.

With all the additions of new music and performing venues and other downtown nightlife establishments, we have made great strides in the After Hours index thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Downtown Entertainment Taskforce led by Tom Martin. With things like the Yellow Bikes program, the re-appearance of trolleys downtown, and the enhancement efforts of LexTran and Rocky Burke, we are making progress in the Around Town category. Improvements to our streetscape and signage will only bolster these efforts. Social Capital was identified as a strong point for Lexington when compared to other major cities, but we can certainly do more to involve and engage young people and produce more diversity throughout the decision-making process. The ongoing efforts of the Urban League and the city are helping us get to where we need to be.

While our Leadership Visit has resulted in many quality programs and initiatives over the years and influenced things like downtown development and streetscape design, we can do better at implementation. We currently have so many opportunities, ideas, and projects just waiting for that extra nudge to come to fruition. What exactly is our “low hanging fruit,” or what projects are realistically attainable and quickly?

Some of the priorities identified in a survey of participants during the Madison trip included:


Legacy Trail – Primary Champion: Steve Austin – Of the $10 million needed to implement this entire package, the Legacy Center already has $7 million committed. The resulting gap seems to be achievable if the right group of supporters can get behind it.
Town Branch Trail – Primary Champion: Van Meter Pettit – The plans are ready, and a portion of this project has been implemented. This likewise seems to be low hanging fruit.
Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden – Primary Champion: Councilwoman Andrea James, and some of the others involved are Committee Member Andy Barr and Steve Austin of the Legacy Center. The state is donating the land on 3rd Street, and the plan calls for a financial need of $2 million. The aggressive design and plan could be completed in stages, or maybe a combination of city and private donations (e.g. horse farms, thoroughbred industry, landscaping companies) could be brought together to implement a workable plan.
Phoenix Park – This could definitely be improved. The Courthouse Area TIF proceeds would be eligible to completely rework this park. It could be dramatically transformed with below grade parking and a completely new park above with fountains, stage areas and other improvements.
CONTINUED DOWNTOWN LEXINGTON ENHANCEMENTS: There’s a lot of great work going on here, especially by Harold Tate and the Downtown Development Authority, as well as the Downtown Lexington Corporation led by Renee Jackson. Great momentum is occurring in this area with so many wonderful events downtown, the implementation of trolleys to connect UK/Transylvania and Main and Vine, the Yellow Bikes initiative, many more venues popping up around town, and later bar closing times. Many people have indicated that what is necessary to further improve downtown includes the gradual return to two-way streets to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, below ground power lines, and the implementation of a BID (Business Improvement District) to enhance the current atmosphere and create a true marketing budget with which we can further spread the word and promote downtown as a key destination for all who live or work in the region.

“GREEN” INITIATIVES: As we heard from one speaker in Madison, being “green” is not a trend, but a mentality. Madison embraced this sustainable way of life some time ago, and has not looked back. Madison has 42 LEED certified downtown buildings, shared community car programs, mandatory recycling, green buses, bike riding, carpooling and more. In Lexington, we need to collectively encourage developers to utilize green techniques not just because it is good for the environment, but because it is “smart business.” Green initiatives sa_ve money in operating costs over time. Also, we need to encourage LFUCG to further study our current recycling center and determine if a new center could or would perhaps be a revenue enhancer. Could we make recycling mandatory on some level for our community?

DISTINCTIVE WATER FEATURE: Just about every city we have visited recently has one thing in common – an attractive water feature, whether it’s a natural body of water or man made one like Oklahoma City or San Antonio. We’ll have to accept that Lexington was not settled on a navigable body of water. One thing that continues to come up after each intercity visit is the possibility of Lake Lexington or some sort of “reflection pond” water feature downtown that would include a bike/walking path, outdoor amphitheater, ice skating rink in the winter, and maybe even a parking structure underneath. I believe this project would enhance the West side of downtown and the Town Branch area dramatically. And, it would put the Manchester Street/Distillery District on “waterfront property.”

PERFORMING & VISUAL ARTS ENHANCEMENTS: There are a ton of possibilities that can further enhance are arts community, and Jim Clark with LexArts is always bubbling with great ideas that are very possible with the right support.

Many of these ideas/priorities are posted at Rebecca Ryan’s blog site, which has been set up exclusively for us to share and track ideas. I would encourage anyone who wants to add ideas about Lexington’s future to do so at http://lex-next.blogspot.com. This site will remain active until July 3, 2009.

I mentioned at the close of the Madison visit that the implementation phase is the responsibility of the community as a whole. Myself, Commerce Lexington, and even the city cannot accomplish individually what we need to do collectively. As Linda Rumpke added during her welcome message, “let’s hold each other accountable” as we transform Lexington into the “next” city that we want it to be.

While we have all been impressed with Oklahoma City, Boulder, Austin, and Madison in recent years, we know that we absolutely don’t want to be an Oklahoma City or an Austin or even a Madison. We simply want to be the very best Lexington that we can be. To that end, I would ask two questions: What do “we” as a community, want to accomplish over the next year, and how can each of us contribute to this effort?

Finally, I would like to thank all of those who participated in or sponsored the 70th annual Commerce Lexington Inc. Leadership Visit, as well as recognize the efforts of our planning committee and the CLX staff, which put the trip together. I would also like to thank Tom Eblen of the Lexington-Herald Leader and Tom Martin of Business Lexington for their coverage of the Madison trip. We need our local media to both document these trips and help keep our community focused on the big picture.

It was a tremendous honor for me to lead the Madison trip, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the future.


Woodford Webb
2009 Commerce Lexington Inc. Chairman
President, The Webb Companies
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