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We knew this day would come.’ Years in the making, work begins on Town Branch Commons

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July 02, 2018 12:36 PM

Updated July 02, 2018 02:40 PM

A project Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has envisioned for nearly seven years began taking form Monday morning, as ground was officially broken on what will become Town Branch Commons.

Town Branch Commons will link Town Branch Trail and Legacy Trail to create 22 miles of uninterrupted bike and pedestrian paths, connecting downtown to the rural landscape.

Work will begin in a few weeks on underground sewers in the area. Town Branch Commons is scheduled to be complete by 2021.

The path of Town Branch Commons will start near Rupp Arena, then continue down Vine Street to Midland Avenue before stopping at Third Street, the trailhead for the Legacy Trail.

Gray, along with U.S. Rep Andy Barr and project developers, raved Monday about how Town Branch Commons will revitalize the city and create economic opportunity. Gray said the project will be worth the wait.

“Great projects take time and imagination and relentless determination,” Gray said.

“Yes, we have known from the start that completing Town Branch would take time, but we also knew that it would happen,” he said. “We knew this day would come.”

Mayor Jim Gray, Congressman Andy Barr and others, tossed dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for Town Branch Commons held Monday morning in Charles Young Park. Town Branch Commons will be a strip of Bluegrass running through downtown Lexington. This winding park and trail system will roughly follow the path of Town Branch, Lexington’s first water source, which is located in a culvert under modern-day Vine Street.
Charles Bertram

Also crediting former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gray said Barr’s efforts in Congress were helpful toward the groundbreaking of Town Branch

Barr helped secure $14 million in federal funding through the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program.

Barr said seeds of the project began long before 2012, when he and Commerce Lexington President Bob Quick went on trips to Greenville, South Carolina, Austin, Texas and Oklahoma City and discovered how their downtowns all had something that attracted people, young workers, entrepreneurs and led to economic activity.

Town Branch Park Advisory Board Chair Ann Bakhaus high-fived Congressman Andy Barr during a groundbreaking ceremony for Town Branch Commons held Monday morning in Charles Young Park. Town Branch Commons will be a strip of Bluegrass running through downtown Lexington. This winding park and trail system will roughly follow the path of Town Branch, Lexington’s first water source, which is located in a culvert under modern-day Vine Street.
Charles Bertram


“We took a lesson from those communities and said we need something like this … an attraction, a green space, a park, a water focus… something that could attract more economic activity,” Barr said.

A new three-minute flyover video of the proposed Town Branch Park gives people an idea of what the 10-acre park will look like.

In addition to the TIGER Grant, the city has received $13.6 million in state and federal grants and loans and $6 million in private gifts. With a local investment of $11.8 million, the $39.5 million trail portion is fully funded.

The proposed cost of Town Branch Commons was $35.5 million.

But before Town Branch Commons begins taking shape, a sanitary sewer replacement project at Main Street and Midland Avenue will take around nine months to complete.

“And then soon thereafter, the separated bike trail and pedestrian trail and park light setting along Midland Avenue will start,” Gray said. “Then in a couple years, we will see Midland Avenue and Vine Street completely transformed to a boulevard-like setting.”

The sewer project was originally slated to be done in 2023, but it was moved up to accommodate plans for the Commons.

Gray said Town Branch Commons will define the city and will be a signature of downtown.

“Yes, our town is really sizzling, and I’m not talking about the temperatures we’re enjoying this week,” he said. “Town Branch Commons will have a lasting impact on our city and its citizens.”

UKy Geography students make website for TBT

During the spring 2017 semester at the University of Kentucky, a group of 18 students in GEO 409 (Advanced Topics in GIS) created a website of maps for Town Branch Trail. The students focused on a completed alignment for the trail, which has been funded and partially completed during class. Students participated with a full spectrum of map-making and publishing; they GPS mapped and photographed points of interest, created topographic maps of the trail corridor, and made detailed, interactive maps using 3d data for building structures.

Students participated a full spectrum of map-making and publishing; they GPS mapped and photographed points of interest, created topographic maps of the trail corridor, and made detailed, interactive maps using 3d data for building structures. They used GitHub to share their work and published a website for their research. Furthermore, they used mostly free and open source software and data.

Please check out their website here:

Lexington receives $14 million federal grant to pay for Town Branch Trail


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The linear Town Branch Commons project includes four sections. One of the proposed larger green spaces in the downtown linear park includes a park behind the Kentucky Theatre and the Urban County Government Center. That area is currently a series of asphalt parking lots.

This illustration shows a proposed pocket park along Vine Street for the 2.5-mile Town Branch Commons, a linear trail and park that will connect downtown Lexington to the city’s trail system. SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

Lexington has received a $14.1 million federal grant that will pay for the Town Branch Trail from South Forbes Street to Midland and Third streets, city and federal officials announced Tuesday.

The $14.1 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant is a competitive grant for infrastructure projects offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The grant will be used to finish a section of the Town Branch Trail from South Forbes Road on Manchester Road through the Distillery District. The grant will also be used to pay for portions of a more than 2 1/2-mile section of the trail downtown from Oliver Lewis Way to to the Issac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on Third Street.

The 2 1/2-mile section is called the Town Branch Commons, which is part of the overall Town Branch Trail. Other funding to build the commons includes nearly $7 million in state and federal transportation grants and $10 million in city bond money. Additionally, the city is pursuing a $5.6 million low-interest loan from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority to pay for the trail and enhanced streetscape, such as plants and benches.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who pushed for the grant, said the $14.1 million will make the project — and the dream of connecting the Town Branch and Legacy trails — a reality.

“To win a grant like this we had to overcome some really tough competition,” Gray said. “It’s exciting news for a project that has so much transformative potential for the city. It just shows that hard work and a good vision can pay off. Sometimes we need to be patient but persistent.”

Gray praised U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell for helping the city make its case with federal transportation officials. Gray also thanked U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, a staffer for President Barack Obama. Barr wrote several letters in support of the project.

Dowell Hoskins Squire, Lexington’s environmental and public works commissioner, said the city recently released a bid for the design work for the 2 1/2-mile commons. A design firm will likely be selected sometime in late summer. Construction likely won’t begin until spring 2018.

Squire said the city had asked for $15.9 million but received $14.1 million. That leaves a potential gap of $1.8 million.

“The plan is for the mayor to request that $1.8 million in fiscal year 2018,” Squire said. The city has already set aside $10 million for the project.

Van Meter Pettit, president of Town Branch Trail Inc., a nonprofit that spearheaded efforts to start the Town Branch Trail, said Tuesday that he was “thrilled to death” the city secured the federal funding. When completed, the Town Branch and Legacy trails will make commuting to downtown by bike much safer.

“If this does what it’s supposed to do, it will fund a linkage from Masterson Station all the way to Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on Third Street,” Pettit said. “There are neighborhoods and commercial properties that are really going to have amazing access to downtown via bikes or walking. It will make bicycle commuting plausible.”

Town Branch Commons Corridor Project: Transforming Lexington with a Regional Vision



In Lexington, we like to refer to Town Branch Commons (aka Town Branch Trail) as a strip of Bluegrass running through downtown into the rural community. In fact, it’s much more. It’s a strip of history; of waterfront; of walking and cycling trail; and of economic potential. It’s a game changer for generations to come.

The 2016 TIGER funding offers the opportunity to complete this transformational corridor.

First the basics: Town Branch Commons Corridor is a 2.5 mile multi-modal path and park system that will wind through downtown Lexington, following the path of historic Town Branch Creek. It is being funded and built through a public-private partnership (P3). Through its unique design and stormwater management systems, this project will create an environmentally friendly livable, sustainable streetscape.

Town Branch Commons Corridor is the final link in an innovative project to connect Lexington’s rural and urban communities. It will connect to two established regional trails—the Legacy Trail and Town Branch Trail, establishing a connection between Lexington’s urban core and the magnificent Bluegrass countryside. Along the way, Town Branch Commons will connect the historic East End, the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, three higher education campuses, the Downtown Transit Center, Lexington Civic Center, restaurants, entertainment venues, the emerging Distillery District, and the Kentucky Horse Park.

The Legacy and Town Branch trails already represent a $24 million investment in local, state and federal funds. Several citizens groups were involved the creating the trails, and their popularity with local citizens and tourists, is rapidly growing.

Town Branch Commons will provide an interconnected multi-modal trail system downtown that adds much needed public space and provides a safe alternative to vehicular travel.

Town Branch Commons will provide an interconnected multi-modal trail system downtown that adds much needed public space and provides a safe alternative to vehicular travel.

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.”