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Our View: Use joint sales tax dollars for Hermosa to Durango Bike Trail

A burst of tailwind is pushing forward the proposed Hermosa to Durango Bike Trail. And the city of Durango and La Plata County’s joint sales tax dollars are ideal to seed this project as early as 2024, as volunteers research all avenues of funding.

La Plata County has accepted a request for $250,000 from trail proponents and will approach the city in October about working together. Timing is good, momentum continually picks up and grant money is out there in this era of green infrastructure. The trail is expected to cost $6.5 million to $8 million and construction could take six to 10 years.

We’re hopeful the county and city will become a dynamic duo for this project that’s easy to love.

Consider the reasons why. Safety first. Getting cyclists off the shoulders of U.S. Highway 550 – makeshift, dangerous bike lanes – along with runners and pedestrians is a priority. County roads 203 and 250 are sketchy, too. A 10-foot-wide trail on a 70-foot-wide unused Colorado Department of Transportation right of way on the west side of Highway 550, all the way to Hermosa, is a much improved route. There’s room for both a multiuse trail and future highway expansions, if necessary.

That 70-foot-wide right of way is unencumbered. This is huge. No checkerboard of private property to acquire. This strip of land is wide open and practically asking to become a trail.

The trail can’t come too soon. Electric bike traffic is increasing along Highway 550, especially for commuters. Through 2023, e-bikes across the globe are expected to increase 50%, according to Precedence Research. Stack this figure on top of ebike sales between 2019 and 2020, which grew 145% in the U.S. during the pandemic. Used ebikes are more common, making them more affordable.

Love them or not, ebikes are changing transportation. More and more, they will replace cars for daily commutes. Continued incentives and rebates make ebikes reasonable to own, too.

In Durango, the 2023 bike rebate application window closed with program funds fully allocated. But the state is offering rounds of rebate lotteries through October, where residents can try for up to $1,750 as Colorado launches a program aimed at reducing pollution from driving. Approximately 7,000 Coloradans will receive rebates this year through a $6.6 million allocation from the state’s Air Quality Improvement Investments program. Ten years from now, the number of electric bikes could easily rival vehicles on the road.

People need safe places to ride before leaving vehicles parked at home, and this bike trail perfectly connects the Hermosa Valley to Durango.

Trail enthusiast and retired architect Bob Wolff has a design in hand for a bridge over Hermosa Creek with a name already selected – the Ed Zink Memorial Bridge. A fitting tribute to the late civic-minded man skilled at boosterism who “put Durango on the map in the cycling world,” Wolff said. The trail would extend north for Hermosa residents and heading south, the trail would eventually connect with the Animas River Trail. “If we have the bridge, the trail will come,” Wolff said.

That is, after the money. If a federal grant requires a governmental fiscal agent, for example, the county could be that agent, with funds passing through the county before being spent on construction.

Too early to know whether the juice is worth the squeeze, but we like the prospects.

In February 2023, we opined about the Hermosa to Durango Bike Trail after the Southwest Transportation Planning Region added the proposed project to the 2045 Long Range Plan. STPR’s commission of reps from 16 political jurisdictions from Archuleta County to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to Dolores, voted unanimously for it. The STPR can bump up the trail ranking, prioritizing it to land on CDOT’s 10-year plan.

A longtime cyclist, Wolff first fell in love with an ebike in Zink’s barn. He took it for a spin, and the exhilaration of going farther and faster plastered a smile on his face.

The county’s interest and willingness to discuss the project with the city moves along the Hermosa to Durango Bike Trail project. The joint sales tax fund is the way to go.

Pardon us, but we have to say it – build it and they will ride it.