A project to replace a highway bridge southeast of Council Bluffs could pose a roadblock for bike riders pedaling on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.
Work is scheduled to begin Monday on the two-lane U.S. Highway 34 bridge just north of Malvern, Iowa, which is about 22 miles southeast of the Bluffs trail head. The project is expected to be finished in 120 to 130 days, well into the heart of bike-riding season.
A section of the Wabash Trace that runs under the bridge will be closed during most of the work. That section of the trail will be replaced with a north-south concrete tunnel. Over the tunnel will be a new section of east-west Highway 34.
Southwest Iowa Nature Trails Project Inc., a volunteer nonprofit group that manages the trail, said detouring around the work and over steep highway embankments on foot or by bike would be difficult and dangerous.
“Routing bike or pedestrian traffic across or on Highway 34 would be a last resort due to safety concerns,” said Rebecca Castle, president of the trails organization.
The group says it’s working with contractors on possibly opening the project area on certain weekends this spring and summer when biking would be particularly heavy.
“We have discussed the possibility of opening the trail on weekends when work is not taking place,” Castle said. “We are hoping that at a minimum, the trail will be open during weekends from Memorial Day weekend through the completion of the project.”
The Wabash Trace runs 63 miles from the Bluffs to the Iowa-Missouri border. The crushed limestone-surfaced trail passes through eight southwest Iowa towns: Council Bluffs, Mineola, Silver City, Malvern, Imogene, Shenandoah, Coin and Blanchard.
With almost half of its riders coming from outside Iowa, the Wabash Trace brings economic benefits to the towns and the area, the group’s website says. For example, Mineola hosts a popular weekly Taco Ride from the Bluffs and back during the summer months.
“Limiting access to the trail will decrease the traffic and thus spending by trail users,” Castle said. “For small businesses in towns like Malvern, Imogene and Shenandoah, this could be very detrimental.
“This trail is a major spine,” she said, “and it attracts visitors regionally and nationally.”
Details and updates on the closing and project will be available on the group’s Facebook page and website, Castle said.