Mission City Council again divided over Turkey Creek Trail grant funding

The trail is complete through Merriam, including this section near the Merriam Marketplace.
The trail is complete through Merriam, including this section near the Merriam Marketplace.

The potential extension of the Turkey Creek Trail through Mission again Wednesday divided the Mission City Council when it was found that a recent grant award to do preliminary design studies might have to be paid back if progress is not made toward construction in 10 years.

Mission Mayor Steve Schowengerdt weighed in on the trail Wednesday with comments critical of its location. “We got dealt a bad hand on where that trail is going to go. I don’t like it,” Schowengerdt said. “You can’t do everything. You have to pick and choose.”

Councilor Amy Miller also remained firmly against the trail, saying the city has more important projects. “We have things to take care of now,” she said.

“You have to have a vision if you are going to build a community,” Councilor Dave Shepard said. “There are so many assumptions by this group right now. You don’t know where the trail is going to go until you do the study.” Shepard compared the trail investment to the recent Johnson Drive rebuild, saying businesses are coming back because of the city’s vision and the expenditure that was opposed by some council members.

Councilor Pat Quinn also backed continuing with the grant project that requires $39,000 in city matching funds. “I think we are going to be doing the project anyway,” Quinn said, noting there will be pressure to connect the missing section of the trail. Quinn said he wanted the city to pay down some debt first, but thought the city would be paying for the engineering expenses at some point anyway.

“This is a project that has unbelievable support in this community,” Shepard said. In response to comments that the trail alignment is too far on the outskirts of the city, Quinn suggested the city could build spurs to connect. One of Schowengerdt’s criticisms was that the trail is too far north. The Turkey Creek Trail has been planned for years and generally follows the streamway. The construction in Merriam began in 1992.

The Mission section of the trail crosses the northwest corner of the city, connecting sections of trail that are completed through Merriam and Overland Park with sections that are under construction in Kansas City, Kan. The missing link is the short section through Mission that is challenged by a steep topography and highway crossings.

The city recently received a grant from Mid-America Regional Council to fund design and preliminary engineering which would give a better idea of construction costs, right of way costs and exact route. The council was told Wednesday that the $69,570 grant might have to be paid back in 10 years if no construction or right of way progress has been made, a condition that was previously unknown. The city turned a $1 million construction grant back more than a year ago because it chose not to put up the local match and has been divided over moving forward with trail plans.

The trail discussion will return in two weeks at the monthly city council meeting. The city has been awarded the grant, but the city must formally commit its matching funds. Councilor Jennifer Cowdry agreed to move the issue forward to the council agenda, but also expressed misgivings about the trail location.