At this rate, the extension of the Chief Ladiga Trail to Anniston’s Fourth Street Amtrak station will be signed, sealed, constructed and opened about the same time NASA astronauts set foot on Mars.
It will be worth the wait, of course. The rails-to-trails project that encompasses the Ladiga and Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail is a marvelous addition to every community from here to Atlanta that the trail traverses. It’s good for business, it’s good for tourism, it’s good for residents who enjoy ecotourism and outdoor exercise. The benefits are immense.
Yet, Anniston continues to be the broken spoke in the trail’s wheel. Since 1998 the Ladiga has ended at Michael Tucker Park just inside Anniston’s city limit, and leaders have long been actively trying to extend the trail to the Fourth Street multi-modal site. It’s been a frustrating exercise in patience, especially since Anniston couldn’t begin acquiring the remaining former rail bed and start building the 7-mile extension until the Alabama Department of Transportation rubber-stamped the city’s right-of-way plan.
That plan was submitted to Montgomery in October.
Then November passed. And December. Now it’s late January, and officials say ALDOT has recently approved City Hall’s plan. “It’s just a process that we have to go through, but I’m anxious to get moving on it and to get moving forward,” Anniston Mayor Jack Draper told The Star last week. That’s nice-guy speak for, It’s about time.
In a sense, this is reminiscent of the snail’s-pace construction of McClellan Veterans Parkway, the portion of U.S. 431 that connects Interstate 20 with Alabama 21 and opens up north-south travel through Calhoun County. Old-timers will recall pipe-dream talks about an eastern bypass in the early 1970s when it was already apparent that Alabama 21 through downtown Anniston was hopelessly clogged. It took Fort McClellan’s 1999 closure for talk to turn to action, as slow as it was, since a bypass couldn’t be carved through an active Army post. When the first half of the parkway opened in January 2011, that project was already years old, concept to fruition. Its second half wasn’t unveiled until December 2015.
In Piedmont, the Ladiga Trail has become a major attraction, as it is in Weaver. In Jacksonville, it takes cyclists and runners right by the Jacksonville State University campus and the old train station.
And Anniston? The Calhoun Area Metropolitan Planning Organization awarded the city about $520,000 in federal money in 2014 to buy land to extend the trail. That’s perhaps the city’s biggest hurdle — acquiring the land adjacent to the trail from a collection of landowners, some private, others corporate. The city also broke ground in 2014 on a wellness park in West Anniston that’s planned as a centerpiece of the trail extension. But that was nearly four years ago.
ALDOT’s glacier pace with its approval has only further tested Annistonians’ patience with this project. We hope this is an example of the adage that good things happen for those who wait.