Walkers, runners and cyclists on the popular Rillito River Park Trail encounter a rather vexing reality when they reach the trail’s passage at North Craycroft Road: a bridge to nowhere.
The expensive and finely crafted bridge — built as the gateway to a planned trail extension eastward along Tanque Verde Creek from Craycroft Road to Sabino Canyon Road — is now marked with a sign that says “End of Trail.”
The sign reflects the fact that the trail ends abruptly at a fence just beyond the east end of the bridge, which crosses a drainage flowing into the Rillito. It comes to an end there because the planned extension is on indefinite hold as a result of land access, funding and bureaucratic issues.
The cost of the bridge: about $200,000.
“Right now, we don’t have anything planned as far as construction” of the trail extension in the immediate future, said Suzanne Shields, director of the Pima County Regional Flood Control District. The county is overseeing the Rillito Trail and other segments of a loop of trails for non-motorized travel around Tucson.
The reason for the holdup, Shields said, is uncertainty about access for the trail over what is now private property and availability of funding.
“It’s a matter of getting funding to acquire the land and to do the construction,” said Shields, who had no estimate of the cost of building the extension. “We’re still hoping that it would be part of a future bond package.”
Further complicating the situation is that the city of Tucson annexed land in the area in July 2012.
The annexation took in property near River and Craycroft Roads owned by developer Joe Cesare, who is building a mixed-use development in the area. Cesare’s parcel includes land needed for the trail extension.
City officials said the annexation agreement didn’t clarify the outlook for eventual trail access.
“We don’t have any direct language in the annexation agreement that refers to the trails system or the river park,” said Mike Czechowski, annexation project manager for Tucson. “I really don’t know why that language wasn’t included.”
Cesare said he would provide access for the trail if the county goes ahead with construction of the extension.
“We made an agreement with the county,” Cesare said. “We said that whenever they’re ready to go, we will dedicate the land to them.”
Cesare noted, however, that there are at least two parcels of land along the planned trail alignment that aren’t part of his property. The county would have to deal with those parcels separately, he said.
John Spiker, civil engineering manager for the county Flood Control District, said the trail extension “is on hold until the (Cesare) development moves forward. They have submitted some development plans to the city of Tucson for approval. We’re waiting for that process to get underway.”
Once the development plans and issues such as bank stabilization and right-of-way are clarified, “then we’ll move forward — if we have funding,” Spiker said.
It’s likely to be years rather than months until those pieces fall into place, he said.
“We’re still hoping we can work something out, but for now we’ve just got to wait,” Spiker said.
Meanwhile, Shields said, the county is planning another trail extension in the area — along the Pantano Wash from Tanque Verde Road to Craycroft Road.
Ultimately, if both of the planned trail segments were built, there would be passages along both Tanque Verde Creek and the Pantano Wash, which converge at Craycroft Road to form the Rillito River.