SIOUX CITY -- Next week, city officials will celebrate the official opening of a new railroad bridge that more easily connects two recreation trails in Sioux City's Leeds neighborhood.
Built at a cost of $1.2 million, the nearly half-mile connection provides a direct link between the Floyd River and Outer Drive trails.
On July 5, a jogger approached the new bridge spanning the rail tracks, then turned around when seeing large orange "Trail Closed" signs. But full access is just days away.
"The contractor has some final grading, seeding and fencing to install along the railroad right-of-way prior to opening to pedestrians," Brittany Anderson, the city's senior civil engineer said last week.
The long-awaited connection remained closed Wednesday but the barricades will be removed soon in advance of a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 10 a.m. on July 20.
Bill DuBois lives closest to the new railroad bridge, which sits about 40 yards southeast of his home in the 3800 block of Jefferson Street. He likes the trail has an elevated extension, which helps block the busy commercial area along Floyd Boulevard, which city officials hoped would take off once an Outer Drive extension was added a decade ago.
DuBois had long figured a strip mall would be built south of his house, and one day joked to his wife, "Why don't you get me a (trail) bridge for my birthday?" He's since been able to see the progress of the new addition that will please bicyclists and others.
The Floyd River Trail was created in the early 1990s, when the city first began adding paved recreational trails. It was touted as a way for residents of Leeds and the northside to take a southbound route.
The trail path was built on top of a Floyd River control dike built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and runs along the west side of the Floyd River.
The northern trailhead, a poorly marked dirt area to begin with, was all but obliterated when Union Pacific Railroad tracks were moved 100 yards east in 2009 as part of the Outer Drive extension project.
Since then, the three-mile Floyd River Trail could be reached on the north end only by those determined enough to navigate an often muddy area east of Jefferson Street -- walking up a slope to a railway bed, across the tracks and down an embankment, then across another 15 yards of dirt to reach the paved trail.
Between the south end at Fourth Street and the north end at Jefferson, there are three trail access spots, at 11th, 18th and 28th streets. A few years ago, city officials saw the necessity of modernizing a good northern end access point. But the sticking question was how to get people over the railway, and the answers were not cheap.
At one point in 2014, a tunnel under the railway was discussed. Eventually, city officials came up with a way to finance a bridge and more. A contract was awarded to Dixon Construction Co., of Correctionville, Iowa, for the project.
Another major project set to begin this year will connect segments of the Missouri riverfront trail. That piece will close the 1.5-mile gap between the Chautauqua Park and Chris Larsen Park trails. It's anticipated to start once permits are done by the Army Corps. City Parks and Recreation Department Director Matt Salvatore said that project will extend into 2019.
In Leeds, bridge spans were installed in the spring, then the bridge deck was poured in May. A railing and safety fence are also part of the bridge, and a new curving trail was added to the west side, eventually connecting to the intersection of Floyd Boulevard and Outer Drive, where an existing trail runs west up a hill to North High School and beyond.
Many cyclists, walkers and runners aren't even aware the Floyd River Trail exists, Garrett Soldati, of Sioux City, said as trail improvements were being discussed in 2013.
"It just all of a sudden terminates...It is forgotten because it is not functional, not usable," said Soldati, who used it at times for jogging.
DuBois said he used the prior version to walk his dogs, and will do so much more in the months ahead.
"It is safer, obviously. Ease of access -- you don't have to drag your bike over these tracks," he said.