Construction on six miles of Town Branch and Legacy trails to begin in 2016


Work on four-mile section of Town Branch Trail from Alexandria Drive to Forbes Road will begin in 2016

Construction on 2 miles of Legacy Trail from Jefferson Street to Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden will begin in summer

City still needs up to $15 million for the final section of Town Branch Trail, from Forbes Road to Oliver Lewis Way


Construction of key sections of both the Town Branch and Legacy trails will begin in 2016 as Lexington works toward connecting its two longest trails to make a continuous 20-mile loop from horse country through downtown and back to its rural landscape.

City officials say the remaining two-mile section of the Legacy Trail from Jefferson Street to the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden will begin construction this summer, which will complete the nearly 12-mile trail.

Construction will begin on a four-mile section of Town Branch Trail from Alexandria Drive to Manchester Street and Forbes Road in 2016, city officials said last week.

Those six miles of trails will be the most trail miles the city has constructed in the past six years. The four-mile stretch of Town Branch will be built in three sections and cost a little less than $6.5 million, which will be paid for through state-federal funding. The two-mile segment of the Legacy Trail section will cost $3.7 million. It too will be paid for with state-federal transportation funds.

It’s taken more than a decade for Lexington to get its now-popular trail system off the ground as acquisition of land, the complexities of building trails through downtown, and a lack of funding have forced the two trails to be completed in sections.

Town Branch Trail’s first half-mile paved stretch for walking and biking, which starts near Masterson Station on the city’s northwest side, opened in fall 2005. An 8.5-mile portion of the Legacy Trail — from the North Loudon YMCA to near the Kentucky Horse Park— opened in September 2010. That project was completed in anticipation of the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games. Federal stimulus and other funding helped the city develop and build the 8.5-mile section.


Over the years, the city has added additional miles to both trails as funding trickled in.

Van Meter Pettit, president of Town Branch Trail Inc., said that when the idea of a continuous trail system was first discussed more than a decade ago, Lexington residents were suspicious.

“The very first meeting we had people who thought these trails were going to be a route for terrorists … . They thought these paths are only going to be used by criminals,” Pettit said. “Now, the whole mind-set has shifted.”

The city knew the trails were popular but now has numbers to prove it.

In September, new electronic counters on the Legacy Trail clocked 13,509 trips by bicyclists.

“That does not include pedestrians,”said Keith Lovan, a city engineer who has overseen the design and construction of the Legacy and Town Branch trails. “We are in the process of trying to determine how many pedestrians are on the trail based on the number of bicyclists.”

Lovan said the development of the trail system has been slow because Lexington is creating a 20-mile trail loop through some land it doesn’t own and must navigate creeks, railroads, utilities and state highways. Many cities have converted former railroad lines to trails, which is much easier.

Pettit agreed.

Town Branch Trail goes through one of the oldest commercial corridors in Kentucky.

“That is infinitely harder than rail to trail,” Pettit said. “It takes an enormous amount of cooperation. Most would say it was impossible, and it’s a great testament to Lexington that we have been able to get this done.”

Town Branch

In September 2014, then-Gov. Steve Beshear announced $6.5 million in state-federal funding for a nearly four-mile stretch of Town Branch Trail.

Town Branch Trail is now complete from Masterson Station to Alexandria Drive. That $6.5 million will be used to build the next three phases of the trail. Construction probably will begin on the next section — phase 3, from Alexandria Drive to Bizzel Drive — in the spring, said Lovan. The fourth phase, a very short section, will cost $1.01 million. It will pass under a bridge that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet rebuilt as part of the New Circle Road widening project.

“That has already been completed,” Lovan said of the bridge.

Another key portion of Town Branch Trail will include a rebuilt intersection into McConnell Springs on Old Frankfort Pike. Because that’s a state road, the city has to work with the Transportation Cabinet to redo that intersection, which the city hopes will include a traffic light.

“We are making improvements to the actual intersection,” Lovan said. “We are also rebuilding the entrance into the fire training center (which is across the street). All of that has to be completed before we do the trail.”


That pedestrian-friendly intersection into McConnell Springs will be a boon not only for trail users but for the park, Pettit said. McConnell Springs is tucked behind heavy industry on Old Frankfort Pike. To get there, people have to drive. Once that intersection and that key connector are finished, more people will find their way to McConnell Springs.

“If they are connected to greenways, the use of these parks goes way up,” Pettit said.

The three sections will be constructed at the same time, Lovan said. That way if a hiccup occurs, one problem won’t bring construction of the entire trail to a standstill, he said.

Lovan said he hoped the four-mile section would be completed in 2017. But because construction involves so many moving parts, a completion date is difficult to predict, Pettit said.

At the same time construction continues on the Town Branch, the city will be seeking funding for the final segment of the trail from Forbes Road to Oliver Lewis Way.

The city has an engineering report that shows costs for that portion of the trail probably will be $13 million to $15 million.

Lovan said the city would be going after city-federal transportation grants and any other type of funding to get that key section of the trail — which includes the Distillery District on Manchester — funded.

“We will continue to apply for grants and looking for whatever sources of funding we can find,” Lovan said. “We’ve broken it down into smaller sections in order to find money to fund it.”

Town Branch Commons

City officials have said they hope construction on the downtown portion of the Town Branch Trail, the Town Branch Commons, also will begin in 2016.

$10 million bond money for Town Branch Commons in this year’s city budget

Although Town Branch Commons is funded differently from the Town Branch Trail, it is part of the eight-mile Town Branch trail system. Mayor Jim Gray has pushed for its funding and construction for the past several years. The city set aside $10 million in bond money for the project in this year’s budget. In addition, Beshear pledged nearly $6 million in state-federal transportation money for the Commons, which will include not only a trail but a series of pocket parks when completed. In addition, the city has applied for a $5.6 million low-interest state loan.

When completed, Town Branch Commons will stretch from the Isaac Murphy Art Garden — a trail head for the Legacy Trail —to Oliver Lewis Way — the beginning of the Town Branch trail’s rural section.

With the state money, construction on a section of the Commons will begin along Midland Avenue in 2016, city officials have said.

In addition to state and federal money, the city hopes to raise more than $50 million in private money to build the pocket parks along the Commons and to pay for other amenities.

Legacy Trail

The two-mile remaining section of the Legacy Trail from Jefferson to Fourth streets will mean moving the trail onto city streets. That also will mean the loss of some on-street parking. The city held public meetings to inform people who live in the area of the trail, but those meetings were not well attended, Lovan said.

He said the city is going to follow up with letters to affected residents to ensure people know about possible changes and the loss of parking to make room for the trail on Fourth Street. Transylvania University received a grant from the state to cover portions of the trail that goes on its property. Transylvania also is providing a match for that funding, Lovan said.

“We will have markers on the street and we’re going to be painting the bike lanes green,” Lovan said. “It will impact people mostly on Fourth and Third streets.

“We plan to have more public meetings possibly in March and April and then get started sometime in the spring or summer of 2016.”

In addition, the state — which owns the Kentucky Horse Park — is in the process of building an additional 1.8-mile section of the trail from the park. Currently the trail ends at the Fayette County line, Lovan said.

Once completed, people will be able to travel from Masterson Station through downtown to the horse park on foot or by bicycle, Pettit said.

“That’s unique not only in Kentucky but also in the country,” Pettit said. “We are able to go from horse country through downtown and then back out to horse country.”

Town Branch Water Walk

The Town Branch Water Walk is a self-guided audio tour of downtown Lexington’s hidden waterway. Walk, Ride, and Explore on September 20, October 11, November 08, from 2 – 5 pm.

The Town Branch Water Walk is a collaboration between designers, educators, nonprofit and corporate sponsors, and was developed through the LFUCG Stormwater Incentive Grant Program. Maps and podcasts were developed by landscape architecture students at the University of Kentucky in collaboration with SCAPE Landscape Architecture and MTWTF graphic design studio.

The Town Branch Water Walk was created by: SCAPE Landscape Architecture PLLC, MTWTF, the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, Peach Technology, and the University of Kentucky’s Landscape Architecture Program in collaboration with Bluegrass Greensource, the Fayette Alliance, Town Branch Trail, Lord Aeck Sargent, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Fayette County Cooperative Extension, Downtown Lexington Corporation, University of Kentucky’s College of Design, and the YMCA.

Downtown water walk helps ‘kick-start awareness’ about Lexington’s Town Branch plan

By Greg Kocher –

People interested in the history and ecology of Lexington came downtown Sunday to learn more about Town Branch Commons, the proposed downtown park that would follow the path of the city’s historic water source.

The park would include much of Town Branch, the creek that runs beneath downtown Lexington. The park would be a network of pools, fountains and rain gardens stretching from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue to Cox Street near Rupp Arena.

Gena Wirth, the design principal for SCAPE/Landscape Architecture of New York, which won an international competition to design Town Branch Commons, said the event was designed to let people envision the park.

“If you don’t know it’s there, you can’t get excited about what it could be,” Wirth said. “Town Branch is this kind of hidden, unseen thing, and this event is helping kick-start awareness about Town Branch and the role we all play in helping preserve and maintain quality water systems.”

Claire Carpenter, a retired University of Kentucky employee who described herself as “somewhat over 60,” said she has been following “the possibilities of bringing Town Branch back to daylight for a while.”

“Plus, I’m a biker, so this seemed like a natural to come bike the route of the underground stream,” Carpenter said. “I think it would be wonderful to take a dirty old stream and culvert and turn it into a city asset.”

Town Branch starts near the Smucker plant on Winchester Road where Jif peanut butter is made, Lexington architect Van Meter Pettit said during a walking tour from Midland Avenue to a parking lot across Vine Street from the Transit Center. Lexington was founded on the banks of Town Branch, a tributary of the South Elkhorn.

The creek “was an open waterway along the railroad,” Pettit said. “It probably was not full at all times, but it surged especially in wet weather. It generally came out of springs.”

After flooding in the 1920s and ’30s, Town Branch was paved over and covered by streets. Pointing to blue manhole covers along Midland Avenue, Pettit said: “All these storm sewers go directly to Town Branch, but now it’s all culverted. What we call Town Branch is just a system of culverts where we are standing now. It’s not until you get to the back of Rupp Arena” that Town Branch returns to the daylight.

Projects in Seoul, South Korea, and Yonkers, N.Y., have brought stretches of urban waterways back into the public light, Wirth said.

Trent Garrison, who teaches geology at Eastern Kentucky University, attended Sunday’s event to learn more about the groundwater system and the future of Lexington.

Garrison, 38, of Lexington said he would be interested in biking on the Town Branch path.

“We bike quite a bit, and it would be great not only for us but friends of ours who are interested in the same thing,” he said.

Blue Grass Community Foundation has begun a campaign to raise $50 million to build and maintain Town Branch Commons. This month the Urban County Council approved spending $180,000 to hire the foundation to spearhead the private fundraising.

Lexington council approves agreement to launch Town Branch Commons donation drive

In addition to private fundraising, the city is seeking a $13 million federal grant that would be matched by $10 million from the city and nearly $1 million from LexTran.

Read more here:


Foundation might lead efforts to raise money for Town Branch Commons in downtown Lexington

By Beth Musgrave –

The city is poised to give $180,000 to the Blue Grass Community Foundation to lead efforts to raise millions of dollars for Town Branch Commons, a new linear downtown Lexington park that will connect the city’s core to its rural landscape.

As part of its general fund budget of more than $323 million, the city set aside $10 million in bond money for the 2.5-mile linear park, which is to have a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on East Third Street to Cox Street near Rupp Arena.

The park will include much of Town Branch, the creek that mostly runs beneath downtown Lexington.


The $180,000 is from the general fund and is in addition to the $10 million in bond money.

Some members of the Urban County Council questioned the $180,000 allocation at Tuesday’s council work session. It will come up for a final vote in coming weeks.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti questioned why the city was spending money to get money. The $180,000 is just for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016. It’s not clear how much the city will have to pay Blue Grass for private fundraising in future years, Mossotti said.

“I think that’s a lot of money,” Mossotti said. “It just doesn’t seem to be best business practice to go that way.”

City officials defended the cost, saying it was needed to raise money.

“We are basically contracting with the Blue Grass Foundation to cultivate fundraising efforts,” said Jamie Emmons, chief of staff for Mayor Jim Gray.

The goal is to raise $50 million in private donations.

Emmons said the foundation also will manage the money, and potential donors want to know that the money will be managed appropriately.

The total price tag for the park is $75 million, including a little more than $24 million for infrastructure. The first phase is to build the infrastructure. In addition to the $10 million in city money, the city is seeking to receive $13 million in federal transportation money. The city should know if it receives the money in September, Emmons said.

Councilman Richard Moloney questioned what the city will do if the federal government doesn’t approve the $13 million.

Emmons said if the city doesn’t get the federal money this year, it will apply again next year. Emmons said if it doesn’t receive the federal money in the next two years, officials are developing an alternative plan.

“We are not going to spend any of the $10 million, unless the council approves it,” Emmons said.

Private fundraising will pay for building the pocket parks along the 2.5-mile stretch. City officials have said they think that once the infrastructure is built, it will be easier to raise money from private sources.

Plans for Town Branch Commons were unveiled in 2013 but were put on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center. When the city and the University of Kentucky could not come to an agreement on the extent of the renovations to Rupp Arena, Gray suspended the Rupp Arena overhaul plans.

With the Rupp project stalled, the city is turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

About $8 million would be needed to operate the system for 10 years after it is completed. That also will be raised through private donors.

An additional $12 million will be needed for an operating endowment, which would generate $500,000 to $1 million a year for operating expenses beyond the first 10 years. It would be maintained by a nonprofit. Many of the country’s newest parks are maintained by private nonprofits.

The design from Scape/Landscape Architecture of New York calls for a large Central Park-like park on the Cox Street lot west of Rupp Arena, a linear park in the Vine Street parking lot behind city hall, and other improvements to existing parks along the trail, including Triangle and Thoroughbred parks.

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Blaze trail to downtown greenway

Herald-Leader Editorial

The Urban County Council Tuesday heard a well-thought-out and ambitious plan for a public-private partnership to develop and maintain the Town Branch Commons through downtown Lexington, linking the Legacy and Town Branch Trails in a 22-mile trail system.

With this plan, Lexington has the opportunity to create a transformative greenbelt through the heart of our city. We must not blow the opportunity.

On one level there were few surprises. The proposal reflects the vision of SCAPE, the landscape architecture firm that won the 2013 design competition for a linear park along Town Branch, the long-submerged creek that was the backbone of early Lexington.

This illustration shows Town Branch Commons stretching west of Rupp Arena. The downtown linear park would link to two trails, expanding chances for bicycle commuting and recreation.

The surprise, or at least what gave pause, was the $75 million price tag.

That would be a hard bill to swallow, if local taxpayers were asked to pay it all.

But the city is only on the hook for $10 million under the business plan presented Tuesday. And, that only if Lexington wins a federal grant for about $13 million.

Those combined, along with about $1 million of work LexTran would fund at the Transit Center on Vine Street, will be used for the first phase: a 2.5 mile walking and cycling trail from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at Third and Midland, where Town Branch originates, along Midland to Vine to the parking lot behind Rupp Arena.

Following the lead of many other cities, including New York and Louisville, a non-profit would take over raising the money to build and maintain parks along that trail, a total of $50 million.

The price of building the parks is put at $30 million. The additional $20 million in private funds includes $8 million for the first decade of maintenance and operating expenses, and a $12 million endowment to provide operating funds into the future.

There are at least two really great things about this business plan.

The first is it plans for the ongoing investment parks require, without relying on the vagaries of annual city budgets. So, if built, people will want to come to the Town Branch Commons because it is consistently safe, clean and well-cared for.

The second is that if the private money doesn’t materialize, the city’s $10 million will be well spent, providing a safe, accessible link for walkers and cyclers among several existing sites: the Isaac Murphy garden, Charles Young Center, Thoroughbred Park, Phoenix Park and Triangle Park.

It will also allow people who live and work outside the city’s core a safe path into and through downtown, by linking the Legacy Trail, which runs from the Kentucky Horse Park, along Newtown Pike, past the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus to the Isaac Murphy garden; and the Town Branch Trail, from Masterson Station through the Distillery District to just behind Rupp Arena.

We believe, though, that if the city commits to this initial investment, private interests will be willing to invest heavily in making the compelling vision of a walkable greenbelt through our downtown a reality.

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