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New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois

There was some wonderful news for rail-trail advocates and planners in Illinois last week, with Governor Pat Quinn announcing tens of millions of dollars would be invested in trails throughout the state.

The grant funding was provided by the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, now known as Transportation Alternatives (TA), and was part of a package of nearly $50 million for active transportation works throughout Illinois, that is expected to support more than 400 jobs across 54 projects.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Director of Policy Outreach, Dan Persky, who spent many years working on active transportation projects in Illinois, said that the strong focus on trails in this round of grant funding represents a significant shift in the state's transportation focus.

"In recent years, Illinois has often dedicated a majority of TE funds to streetscape projects," Dan said. "To see the governor's office directing such significant support for projects like the Calumet-Sag Trail and the Grand Illinois Trail is recognition that these facilities are vitally important transportation and recreational assets, and that they represent a smart investment in the state."

In addition to the Calumet-Sag Trail (a regional trail southwest of Chicago), and the Grand Illinois Trail (a planned loop of more than 500 miles between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River), other noteworthy projects to receive funding include the Millennium Trail, the North Shore Channel Trail, the DeKalb-Sycamore Bikeways, and the Historic Route 66 Bikeway.

Local groups such as Trails for Illinois and the League of Illinois Bicyclists deserve a lot of credit for many years of advocating for appropriate investment in trails and active transportation infrastructure.

That job is about the get a little easier. A new partnership between RTC and Trails for Illinois will soon produce the first ever comprehensive study of trail usage in that state.

Late last year, I spent a week visiting a wide variety of trails across Illinois, including the Tunnel Hill Trail, the Rock Island Trail and the Old Plank Road Trail, retrieving automated trail counter equipment which had been tracking user activity over the previous months. At the same time, teams of local volunteers were distributing and collecting trail user surveys, which included questions about spending patterns.

It's part of Trails for Illinois' 'Make Trails Count' push. "We want to show Illinois and its communities the triple bottom line benefits-economic growth, improved health and environmental stewardship-that trails are creating," says Executive Director Steve Buchtel. "We want to put a number on those benefits so decision makers take them seriously."

The results of those surveys are now being analyzed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois. In terms of trail development and trail use, so much has happened in Illinois over the past few years, but we really know very little about it. This survey is the first of its kind for the state, and will go a long way to demonstrating the significance of these trails to the people and businesses of Illinois.

That report on trail-usage patterns and the economic impact of trails tourism in Illinois comes out in the spring. Stay tuned. 

Photo courtesy Trails for Illinois



Posted Wed, Feb 6 2013 12:11 PM by Jake Lynch


Gary Brown wrote re: New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois
on Wed, Feb 6 2013 6:37 PM

Where can I get a list of the projects that this 50 million is going toward?

Jake Lynch wrote re: New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois
on Thu, Feb 7 2013 8:42 AM

Gary - here's a link from the Governor's website to the full list of funded projects. www2.illinois.gov/.../ITEP%20Projects%20List.pdf

Eric Nyman wrote re: New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois
on Tue, Feb 12 2013 3:04 PM

It is nice to see trails improved, developed, and added to Illinois.  I ride my bicycle on trails to enjoy many peaceful miles without traffic.  I ride for fun and also train for endurance events.  I encourage my clients to take advantage of trails to stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors.  See you out on the trails in 2013 and beyond.  Eric Nyman   Emergency Muscle Therapy

Pat Brady wrote re: New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois
on Tue, Feb 12 2013 8:42 PM

Why does Lake Forest get $1,236,520 to spruce up their train station and Waukegan and North Chicago and Zion get nothing.   Those Lake Forest people have lots of cars.  Some folks in Waukegan can not afford cars.

Harold Lucas wrote re: New Round of Transportation Grants a Great Investment in Illinois
on Thu, Mar 14 2013 3:04 AM

These Illinois Rail to Trails grant seem to all be allocated in predominantly white communities and absolutely no allocations we are aware of in predominantly African American inner city communities in Chicago.

Could this be a pattern of racial discrimination in the allocation of federal funds in the state of illinois?


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