Tom Kacich | Kickapoo Rail Trail continues bit by bit | columns
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The Kickapoo Rail Trail is not built like a Tour de France racer, but like a weekend cruiser – slowly and steadily.
Last month, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District announced that it had received more than $ 1.2 million from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program to build a 1.5-mile section of railroad in the Ogden area – from half a mile west of the village to the Champaign-Vermilion county line in the east.
The Ogden segment will likely open for recreational use sometime in 2023, said Mary Ellen Wuellner, who retired as the forest reserve’s manager on Friday.
Once opened, this means only a 4-mile section of the trail between St. Joseph and Ogden in Champaign County needs to be completed. Vermilion County has about 9 miles of development to go from Oakwood West to the County Line.
Up to this point, about 10 miles of the railroad track had been built on a decade-long active railway line, but it is now intended to be a 34.5 mile track connecting Urbana to the Possum Trott area west of Danville. Supporters say the trail could eventually reach the Danville riverside area, which would lead to greater recreational opportunities and retail development along the route.
“It’s not a recreational destination yet,” admits Wuellner, who headed the forest protection district when the first section opened in 2017. One day 12 miles and the next six, but it won’t be long before that is the case.
“When all these little segments are put together, you will see people stopping by and spending Friday nights and Saturdays on the town. Then all these other services will show up. “
Work on the Ogden segment should begin next year, said Wuellner.
“The tenders will be awarded in spring at the earliest, then construction can begin in autumn,” she said. “It’s a pretty short section, and it shouldn’t take that long.”
There is enthusiasm for the project in Ogden, she said.
“The nice thing about it is that the people in Ogden see how it worked in St. Joe, and they make sure that the path takes place in their town, too,” said Wuellner. “They formed a beautification committee and met with our staff and look forward to being part of the process.”
The government grant will cover approximately 90 percent of the cost of the Ogden segment. The forest sanctuary foundation has to raise $ 136,000 in local play, she said.
Meanwhile, construction is ongoing on the last remaining section in Champaign County – the section between St. Joseph and Ogden, which is a busy intersection with Chicago-to-St. Louis line.
“Our design office has just finished designing this intersection,” said Wuellner. “We must now submit this design to the Union Pacific for approval. Keep your fingers crossed that the approval process goes smoothly. “
The design provides that the path crosses the tracks on a slope.
“There is not enough space under the US-150 overpass to build another overpass over the railroad,” she said. “You can’t, and there are many reasons you can’t go under (the railroad tracks) because the water table is the main reason. The only way to cross it is in the degree.
“But there are very specific (Illinois Department of Transportation) guidelines on how to make a safe intersection with crossing arms and lots of signaling on either side,” she added. “That is the attitude we will take towards the railroad if there is resistance to building this crossing.
“Actually, what we’re proposing is a lot safer because we know people are using this (crossing) now. What we propose will greatly increase security in this area. “
In Vermilion County, work is nearing completion on the delayed parking project along the railroad track near the scenic Possum Trott Bridge, said Tim Edison, site manager at Kickapoo State Recreation Area.
“Things are still under construction, but hopefully it will be ready in about a month,” explained Edison. “There have been some reordered items that were delayed due to COVID.”