City approves controversial new bike trail through south Sacramento. What happens next?

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday approved a controversial 4.5-mile recreational trail in an old rail corridor through south Sacramento.

The plan – applauded by south Sacramento residents but opposed by train advocates – will remove sections of the old train tracks where the Del Rio Trail will pass through intersections.

The bike and walking trail, more than five years in the making, will run from just north of Sutterville Road to just south of Meadowview Road.

The council Tuesday approved the final environmental impact report, clearing the way for construction to start late next year.

The city has secured nearly $10 million from grants and other non-city funding for the majority of the project, said Councilman Jay Schenirer. The city still needs funding for the section of the trail just north of Sutterville, which could be about $5 million, Schenirer said.

Schenirer said he hopes the trail can open in about two years.

“We want more people in active transportation,” Schenirer said. “This is a great trail. It gets people from the south area all the way to downtown if they wanna do that.”

Train advocates say removing portions of the track would kill the possibility of adding an excursion train through south Sacramento in the future – an idea state officials have discussed in the past.

The trail will preserve about 98 percent of the tracks, Schenirer said. Most of the tracks being removed are at intersections, for safety reasons, he said.

“As a biker, you don’t want to see tracks going parallel with you as you’re crossing those streets because getting a tire or wheel caught in one of those tracks is a dangerous thing and we need to make this safe,” Schenirer said.

Six neighborhood associations support the project, said Brian Ebbert, president of South Land Park Neighborhood Association.

“This trail will safely link several south Sacramento neighborhoods to schools, parks and businesses,” Ebbert said.

The trail will also serve disadvantaged neighborhoods, a city staff report said.

“This is not a trail from downtown to South Land Park,” Councilman Jeff Harris said. “The equity piece of this is not a joke. This means people from south Sacramento can get downtown on a bicycle. To me this is a tremendous and significant improvement to what we have now.”

California State Railroad Museum Foundation president Cheryl Marcell said the foundation supports the trail, but wants the rail to remain so it could be used on occasion for maintenance and repair if the state someday adds an excursion train that would start and finish its run between Pocket Road and Hood Franklin Road.

Neighborhood and city officials said that is an unlikely scenario, removed from the Old Sacramento State Historic Park general plan, but advocates said it could still happen.

“We absolutely support the trail with the rail,” Marcell said. “There has never been any dispute about that.”

Former Sacramento Kings co-owner Gregg Lukenbill agreed.

“Sacramento is so much better than this – we can progress into the future and support alternative transportation systems while honoring and maintaining our historic and irreplaceable railroad infrastructure. Let’s not make the same mistake we made with the Alhambra Theater,” Lukenbill said in a news release earlier this week, referencing the historic theater that was demolished to make way for a grocery store.

The line, which is missing sections, was last used in 1978. Sacramento Regional Transit agreed to grant the land to the city for the trail last year. The property was originally slated for light rail, but was never used for that purpose.

Councilman Steve Hansen said if the state does decide to build the excursion train in the future, it could still possibly do so, by eminent domain or by buying the land from the city.

“This trail doesn’t preclude some change later,” Hansen said. “This Right of Way has been abandoned, essentially. It has been vacant and now we are going to bring new life.”

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.