The Bridge Over the Black River

We have more than 300 miles of trails in our regional trails system here in King County. We here at Parks manage more than 175 miles of those. The majority of those miles can be described as rail-trails: wide, flat, and paved trails that are built in the mellow grades of old railroad corridors. Rail-trails are a popular way to reclaim and reuse the skeletal remains of the once mighty railroad industries that crisscrossed our region.

Many cities, counties, and states across the country are revitalizing these old corridors and giving them a new life. From the days of transporting the fuels of a booming coal and timber economy to today’s uses for recreation and commuting, these trails are an amazing repurposed resource.

A historical map of King County showing colored lines crisscrossing representing rail lines.
In King County, we’ve been building rail-trails for more than 40 years, and it shows.
Many now forgotten railroad corridors live on as our miles of trails.

If you compare the historical map above with our Regional Trails in King County map, you’ll quickly notice the similarities (you can even check out this online rail map for a more comprehensive view). You’ll see a good portion of these rail lines have already been converted into trails. You’ll also begin to notice that the rail corridors that have been converted into rail-trails happen to be in areas of affluence. Corridors in north King County, for example, along waterfronts and with good views and higher property values, have been championed by their mostly white and affluent community members to be converted into wide, paved regional trails.

What’s left behind is a smattering of old spur trails and other rail lines that, while they might provide some local access, won’t foster the type of connectivity that makes it part of a wider network.

Enter the Lake to Sound Trail (L2S).

A map of the lake to sound trail showing the existing and future segments and the current under construction.
The black lines represents existing portions of the Lake to Sound Trail, the orange future trails, and the dotted line the current segment under construction.

Unlike other regional trails, the L2S is a combination of existing trails – such as the Des Moines Creek Trail – with a separated path, protected bike lane, and sidewalk shared path to complete a 16-mile-long non-motorized connection between the Puget Sound and the southern end of Lake Washington.

On its way, the L2S will connect five cities: Des Moines, SeaTac, Tukwila, Renton, and Burien; and make connections with four other trails: the Green River, Interurban, Cedar River, and Eastrail.

A drilling rig towers over the construction site along the bank of the Black River.
A soil drilling rig preps for the foundation of the pedestrian bridge over the Black River

This will be a first for our region. Not only in the number of partnerships and type of trail, but in creating a trail that directly connects so many south King County communities. Communities that have historically been left out of the rail-trail conversation, communities with residents that have higher incidents of preventable diseases and even lower life expectancies.

Several sections, including one new section of the L2S, are already open for public use; in the works now is a 1.3 mile-long segment that goes through the Black River Riparian Forest and into Fort Dent Park, connecting L2S to the Green River Trail.

Part of the current work includes building this bridge over the Black River. An impressive process that includes inserting steel retaining plates and injecting a slurry of concrete into the soil using this massive drilling rig. This will make the bank more stable and allow the bridge structure to withstand greater seismic events.

During this process Parks’ contractor came across not one, but two, massive four foot diameter pipes that had been abandoned at the site. After spending a day removing that unexpected discovery, the work continued.

Trail building is slow, complex work, and this is a big step forward in connecting these valuable communities with one unique and amazing trail.

We expect the new segment to be completed by the end of this year. Sign up for the L2S e-news and follow our progress!

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