A 4,300-foot section of the Chadwick Flyer greenway trail has already been built in Ozark, west of U.S. 65. (Photo: Wes Johnson)

Over or under the highway?

That’s a key decision that the Ozarks Transportation Organization recently considered after hearing from the public about how best to take the future Chadwick Flyer Greenway Trail across U.S. 65 Highway.

The estimated $20 million Chadwick Flyer project — the biggest in Ozark Greenways history — seeks to link Springfield and Ozark with a 10- to 14-foot wide paved trail that follows much of the old Chadwick Flyer railroad line between the two cities.   

The greenway trail will provide a safe and fairly level recreation path for walkers, runners, bicyclists and even folks in wheelchairs and babies in strollers.

JD Stevenson, planner for OTO, said the agency sought public input on how the trail should cross the divided four-lane U.S. 65 — one of the area’s busiest highways. OTO received more than 30 comments. 

“We decided to recommend Option 1,  which would cross U.S. 65 with a bridge over the highway where the old Chadwick Flyer rail line crossed the highway,” Stevenson said.  “It was also the least expensive option.”

Building a steel span over the highway would cost approximately $2.8 million, he said.

An artist’s rendering shows the Chadwick Flyer trail crossing Lake Springfield via the old steel railroad trestle bridge. (Photo: Ozark Greenways)

Another option would have taken the trail beneath the highway through a long tunnel.  Stevenson said many of the commenters voiced concerns over safety, fearing a tunnel could flood in extreme rain events. 

“It would be a fairly long tunnel to get across four lanes of traffic and the median — close to 300 feet,” Stevenson said.  

Building a less-expensive pre-fabricated steel span above the highway offers another advantage.  It would be seen by thousands of motorists daily and be a good reminder that the Chadwick Flyer trail is there, he said.  Few would see the trail if it were a long tunnel beneath U.S. 65.

Stevenson said a funding source to build the trail bridge has yet to be identified.

“When the money is available, we’ll revisit it to make sure this is the best location for the bridge,” he said. 

The city of Ozark is already working on portions of its section of the Chadwick Flyer greenway, which will begin at the Ozark Community Center and go northwest toward Springfield.  

Public Works Director Jeremy Parsons said 4,300 feet of trail has already been finished and is open for use.  The city also recently finished a key underpass that will let trail users cross beneath Jackson Street, a major Ozark artery. 

A view of the Chadwick Flyer trail tunnel beneath Jackson Street in Ozark. (Photo: Wes Johnson)

The trail will follow the old railroad line corridor, eventually reaching Lake Springfield and the city’s greenway trail system there.

The old Chadwick Flyer railroad trestle bridge crosses Lake Springfield, and is one of the sights that paddlers on the Ozark Greenways James River Water Trail can see as they pass beneath it.   

When completed, it will be possible for trail users to go from downtown Springfield all the way to Ozark’s downtown square.

“Our community has embraced it with open arms,” Parsons said. “When it’s finished you can literally get on the trail at Lake Springfield and be in our downtown in 30 minutes by bike.  It will be a beautiful ride along the old railway corridor, bookended by urban environments in Springfield and Ozark. It will link our cities, square-to-square.”

Mary Kromrey, Ozark Greenways executive director, said the project, when connected with existing greenway trails in Springfield, will provide a 16.7-mile trail experience all the way to Ozark. It follows the Chadwick Flyer rail line, built in 1883 to transport lumber, railroad ties and farm produce from Chadwick to Springfield.

Ozark Greenways and other partners involved in the Chadwick Flyer project are still working on getting enough funding to complete the project. Kromrey said Ozark Greenways also is working with Burlington Northern railroad to acquire unused railroad track in Springfield to help tie the project together.

If all goes smoothly, she said the entire Chadwick Flyer greenway trail could be completed and open to the public by 2025.

This Ozarks Transportation Organization map shows the future Chadwick Flyer greenway trail between Ozark and Lake Springfield. (Photo: Ozarks Transportation Organization)

Wes Johnson has been a journalist for more than 40 years and has lived in Springfield since 2004. He’s an avid sailor, hiker and nature lover. Have a good outdoors story idea? Johnson can be reached at 417-631-2168 or by email at wesdjohnson66@gmail.com.