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Urbana Extension Proposed For Kickapoo Rail Trail

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Looking east along the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks, from Broadway in Urbana.

URBANA — Officials in Urbana now have a feasibility study, for a proposed extension of the Kickapoo Rail Trail through the city.  But Mayor Diane Marlin says it could be some time before the project becomes a reality.

The proposed extension would be different in nature from the Kickapoo Rail Trail, which is a rail-to-trail project, built on a rail bed where railroad tracks have been removed.

In contrast, the proposed extension would be a rail-with-trail project, built alongside the existing Norfolk Southern tracks in Urbana. The tracks are still active, although little used, running through Champaign-Urbana and ending near Smith Road on Urbana’s east side. The feasibility study envisions a 2.5 mile trail, running parallel to the tracks from Smith Road to Lincoln Avenue, passing through downtown Urbana and near Carle Hospital.

“So, it would be an interesting ride and really connect different parts of the city”, according to Marlin.

The mayor says getting the trail extension built will be a long-term project, with no construction expected in 2021. Instead, she says work on the trail extension in the year ahead will focus on negotiations with the railroad, and securing financial assistance.

“Obviously, a lot of the attention’s going to focus on working with the railroad,” said Marlin. “And that’s where we’ll need our federal and state officials to help. You take it step by step. But I think, long-term, this is just a great addition to the trail and to our downtown.”

The feasibility study was prepared by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, with funding from the Carle Foundation and the Illinois Department of Transportation. It was formally presented in December to the Urbana City Council, Urbana Park District board and Champaign County Forest Preserve District board, which looks after the Champaign County portion of the Kickapoo Rail Trail. (The Vermilion County portion is overseen by the Vermilion County Conservation District).

The study compares the proposed rail-with-trail project in Urbana with rail trail projects elsewhere, including portions of the Constitution Trail in Bloomington-Normal, and the Monon Trail in Indianapolis. Both projects are partly rail-to-trail and rail-with-trail. The study also cites rail-with-trail projects along ten Norfolk Southern Railroad corridors in Illinois and six other states (although the railroad states on its website that it will not allow such trails on easements along its operating corridors).

The study estimates the cost of building the Urbana trail extension at around $1.9 million. But related costs for right-of-way acquisition, fencing or landscaping to separate the trail from the railroad, and replacement of the railroad bridge over Urbana’s Vine Street with one with room for the trail, “will be significant,” according to the study, and likely require the use of multiple funding sources.

Despite the costs, the study concludes that the rail trail extension could benefit Urbana, with improved transportation connectivity, opportunities for exercise and recreation, and economic benefits for both businesses and the community.

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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