The Denison City Council approved a contract Monday for plans for a project that will increase connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists alike in southern and central parts of the city. In a unanimous action, the council approved a $94,000 contract with consulting firm la terra studio for designs for the first phase of development on the city’s proposed mixed-use Katy Trail system.

The three and a half mile project, which would follow a portion of the former right of way of the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad line, was first proposed in 2015, but the city was only recently able to obtain partial funding for the $4 million project. The contract approved Monday will cover the designs for a one-mile stretch of the proposed hiking-and-biking trail from Day Street to Loy Lake Road.

“The Katy Trail will eventually connect Sherman and Denison as a part of the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) hike-and-bike plan,” City Manager Jud Rex said.

At its full length, the trail will extend from Day Street to FM 691 and connect to other regional trails including a proposed system in Gateway Village, near the intersection of FM 691 and U.S. Highway 75. The project was initially conceived as simply a waterline project when the city purchased the former rail right of way in its first meeting of 2015 in order to increase water service in south Denison. However, Rex said the city quickly noticed the opportunity that the project presented.

“The more we looked at it, the more we realized that this was an opportunity to extend a regional trail through Denison and into Sherman,” he said.

Rex noted the waterline will extend from Loy Lake Road to FM 691 and will not be a part of the first phase. The project initially hit some hurdles when Denison was unable to acquire grants for the full project in 2015. However, after breaking up the project into phases, the city was able to successfully apply for a $920,000 grant for the first phase through the Texas Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program last year.

Under the grant, Denison will contribute about 20 percent of the costs for construction, with TxDOT participating with an 80 percent contribution.

“So, a couple hundred grand gets us a million dollars worth of trail, which is a great deal for the city of Denison,” Rex said.

While the city is only pursing the first phase at this time, as crews complete the water line project, they will leave the path in a semi-improved state that will make it usable and set the stage for future work, Rex said.

During Monday’s meeting, there was little discussion by the council with no members of the public speaking on it. During a meeting in 2015 regarding the project, some citizens expressed concern about the safety of it. To address some of these concerns, Rex said the project will include input by a design committee that will include members of the public.

Rex said through the designs, the consultants will attempt to address many of those concerns. As part of the project, Rex said the city will include improved lighting, benches and other features that Denison officials hope will increase the safety on the trails. However, Rex said he does not want to see the entire corridor blocked by fencing, as this could have a negative impact on safety for pedestrians using the trails.

With regard to timelines, Rex said the design phase will take about six months, with construction expected to start in early 2019. This will line up the first phase with the expected time table of the water line improvement, he said.