By OMAR E. ZAPATA
The former Union Pacific railroad will soon be a new hike-and-bike trail extending from North to South Brownsville with benches, lights and other amenities, and will be a health and economic benefit for the city.
With no unforeseen issue or hold up, the West Rail Trail looks to be ready for the public in late August or the middle of September, Rose Gowen, Brownsville City Commissioner At-Large “B,” told the Brownsville Herald.
“Hoping that there are no delays of product and supplies and all that, it should be (completed) near the end of August or middle of September,” Gowen said. “They are currently on schedule.”
The 6.6-mile, 12-foot-wide West Rail Trail from Palm Boulevard to Railroad road by 77 Flea market is currently getting paved with the expectation of the grand opening to the public.
Breaking ground on Oct 29, 2021, the hike and bike trail started building in the south from Palm Boulevard and moved up north with the trail paved all the way to Alton Gloor Boulevard.
Efforts to build the hike-and-bike trail were something lobbied for well over a decade by the grass-roots group Friends of the West Rail Trail.
“I want to remind people that the West Rail Trail began as a grassroots effort of over 5,000 signatures that were collected from the people by the people that wanted this trail,” Gowen said.
The Texas Department of Transportation on Oct. 1, 2021, gave the city permission to proceed with the construction of the hike and bike trail.
The city committed $8 million to build the trail itself with the money becoming available to the city after it was reimbursed for a number of pandemic-related expenditures through the American Rescue Plan, which categorizes those funds discretionary.
On Oct. 14 the city announced that the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization also pledged $900,000 for benches, shade structures and other amenities along the trail, which Gowen said will be added after the grand opening to the public.
Asked if there have been any significant problems, Gowen replied, “I almost hate to jinx it but it’s been going very smoothly. They did have to make a few changes for drainage at some of the intersections but even those went very smoothly.”
Even before its grand opening, the trail has people using it already, which Gowen said is a good sign for what is to come out of the trail for Brownsville residents.
With the trail providing residents an opportunity to get out and be active, Gowen said she hopes it brings many health benefits for Brownsville residents and can help people get to engage in regular activity.
“Our biggest health risk is diabetes,” she said. “And that’s because we have a lot of our folks are people who are overweight … So it provides access to an exercise venue that didn’t exist before … and this allows people who just live near or on the trail to just walk out and jump on the trail and there’s some activity.”
The West Rail Trail can also have an economic benefit for the city as it is likely businesses will want to locate near the trail and it will draw tourists to the trail as well, she said.
“We did an economic impact study of the network that we are building and it has been determined to be a one in ten return for every dollar we invest in a trail network,” Gowen said. “So it is not a losing proposition. It is very much important and a winning proposition for our own people and their health, but also for those that visit here in terms of the economy of the area.”
Upon completion, the West Rail Trail will be a part of the Caracara trails, a countywide trail system that will eventually connect the lower Rio Grande Valley with a vision of a 428-mile trail network.