010817 St. John bike path

Construction of a long-anticipated $5.2 million bike and recreational trail that will extend the length of St. John the Baptist Parish is slated to pass the halfway mark when a portion of the path opens this month, according to parish officials.

The St. John trail, which will extend from the St. Charles to St. James parish lines on the east bank of the Mississippi River, is just part of a bigger, state-envisioned project. Called the Mississippi River Trail, the path is scheduled to extend from New Orleans through St. James Parish.

“This project has been in the works for quite some time,” St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said of her parish's portion of the trail, which began construction in 2011.

The trail is being paid for largely by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's Transportation Alternatives Program, a federally funded program that oversees everything from bicycle and pedestrian facilities to conversion of abandoned railway corridors.

Designed by Meyer Engineers and constructed by Barber Brothers Contracting Co., the portion of the 10-foot-wide, multi-use levee trail opening to the public this month will extend from East 29th Street to West 10th Street in Reserve.

The Transportation Alternatives Program is covering 80 percent of the $1.4 million price tag, with the parish paying for 20 percent.

According to a project description by Meyer Engineers, the part of the path extending through Reserve will be close to the toe of the levee so that cyclists and pedestrians can avoid the annual Christmas bonfires traditionally built on top of the levee.

It's the third phase of the four-phase project being built in St. John Parish. It will connect with an existing path that goes from East 29th Street in Reserve through LaPlace and links up with a 23-mile levee path in St. Charles Parish that extends downriver to Audubon Park in New Orleans.

The existing path in St. John, which includes a ramp down the levee, drainage, a signalized pedestrian crossing and striping, has been popular among residents since it opened in 2012, said Parish Councilwoman Julia Remondet, who lives in Reserve.

"It's an opportunity for us to get out of our cars," Remondet said. "At some points you can get to the very top of the levee and get the vantage point to see the boats moving along the Mississippi River. ... It gives you a chance to relax and to enjoy physical activity."

While plans call for the path to extend upriver to the St. James Parish line, blueprints for the fourth and final phase of the St. John portion are not yet final, according to Meyer Engineers.

Conceptual plans were approved by the Regional Planning Commission, but they are still being examined by the Transportation Alternatives Program, the engineering company said in a project update.

Eventually, officials hope, the Mississippi River Trail will morph into a much larger, state-proposed 110-mile levee path running continuously from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Robottom said when promoting the first phase of the St. John-based portion in 2011.

"This is a good opportunity to attract the many walkers and cyclists who often use the crown of the levee," Robottom said.

Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.