Members of the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee voted this week to recommend that the Washington City Council get behind a project to construct a biking/hiking path from the Washington bridge to the Katy Trail at Dutzow.

Some are already dismissing this effort as a waste of taxpayer money. We don’t see it that way. The timing is right to tackle this project.

First, some background.

The proposed 10-foot-wide trail, which would be built along Highway 47 in Warren County, would provide a long-sought link between Washington and the Katy Trail — a popular 225-mile biking and hiking trail that traverses our state.

Washington officials have been trying to figure out how to make this link for over 20 years. The biggest impediment has been the narrow and outdated Washington bridge which any bicyclist will tell you is dangerous and not suited to biking much less hiking or running.

The new $60 million Missouri River bridge, tentatively set to be built beginning in 2016-17, will include a bike path. The proposed trail would extend that pathway to the Katy Trail.

The trail would be built on the east side of Highway 47 which also is scheduled for major improvements in 2014. The trail would complement these improvements which are long overdue.

The biking/hiking trail is projected to cost around $500,000. But there is a source of money that could be accessed for the trail.

The state of Missouri has designated $40 million in enhancement grant funds for cities and counties in rural Missouri. About $10 million of that is earmarked for MoDOT projects.

Local entities would be required to fund a 20 percent match of the proposed grant.

Washington has already pledged right of way of land it owns along Highway 47 toward getting the grant. We hope Warren County demonstrates the same leadership and gets behind this project.

Why? The answer is simple. Economic development.

Studies and surveys across the country have shown that bicycle paths/trails contribute to economic development. They provide recreation, transportation and a sense of community. They also can increase property values.

People want to live in an area that has abundant biking/hiking trails. That’s why the city of Washington has focussed on creating biking/hiking pathways.

The Katy Trail is considered one of the country’s trail gems. It traverses some of the most scenic areas of the state which is why people from all over the country come here to ride it. It is in our backyard but we don’t have a safe way to access it.

We have no doubt there would be a return on the investment in building this connection.