The possibility for a regional hike and bike trail is expanding with the approved acquisition of an abandoned railway that connects Whitehouse and Troup.

Monday evening, the Tyler Area Metropolitan Planning Organization approved moving the purchase of 7.25 acres of an abandoned Union Pacific rail bed into its short-term and long-term plans. The land comes in at a $500,000 price tag.

Transportation improvement projects must be included in the MPO’s plans to be eligible for grant funding. The organization focuses on regional transportation planning, which also includes bike trails, walking paths and public transit.

The Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority would own and control the railway, and ultimately its destiny, but the current vision is for hike and bike trails.

“All that is being done right now is acquiring the right of way,” MPO Coordinator Michael Howell said. “There’s not a specific project for it now, but the future vision for it is a multiuse trail. The biggest talk now is to try to utilize it for hike and bike trails.”

The actual purchase of the tract was made possible through a $400,000 grant from the Texas Department of Public Safety, with five other entities coming together to pay for the local match. The city of Tyler, Tyler Economic Development Council, Troup Community Development Corporation, Smith County and NETRMA each put in $25,000 to purchase the land and cover associated closing costs.

NETRMA will close on the property in 2016, but it will take several years for the project to move forward or be given a definite destiny.

Howell said the MPO would first need to update its Regional Trail Plan, which was made in 2009. Once the regional trail plans are complete, the entities would begin looking for grants to pay for the conversion and discuss which would pay for what.

“Depending on what the future network looks like … this will be an important piece on what we hope to be a regional trail system,” Howell said.

The entity contributing money for the land acquisition also has future plans in mind, and would have a say in the final product through representatives on the various MPO committees.

“Any federal dollars to be spent on it has to go through the MPO technical and policy advisory committees,” Howell said. “(The communities) will have to be part of that public input for whatever the proposal will be going forward.”

Troup’s main interest in the property would be to transform it into a walking and biking destination. The city of Tyler is interested in preserving the land for utility rights and as a regional trail system.

The road also intersects with Smith County roads. The county’s interest is to allow for more leeway in their maintenance as well as for quality of life and cyclist safety.

Tyler EDC is interested in the long-term possibility of converting it back to a short-line rails system because it connects to a system leading to Houston, making it possible to ship products globally if the Panama Canal is widened.

NET RMA would maintain control of the corridor because under state law it can maintain control of the space if a railroad is put back in decades from now.

This is the second rails to trails project to be considered by the MPO.

The city of Tyler was recently given a grant to transform another rail corridor into hike and bike trails. That project, Legacy Trails, will start at Three Lakes Parkway in Tyler and incorporate sections of Old Jacksonville Highway southward to Gresham.

The trail will go down an out-of-use railroad bed owned by the Texas Department of Transportation that was once used to connect Tyler to Bullard. The Trail also will go along the new section of Cumberland Road northward to Three Lakes Parkway.

Future phases will extend the 10-foot-wide concrete trail from Three Lakes Parkway northward to West Grande Boulevard, and there is potential for some type of future trail system to extend all the way to Bullard.

Twitter: @TMTFaith

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