By Stephanie Malench
On March 13, Madison County Transit held a Trails Workshop for Madison County Transit Board Members, stakeholders in the community, including Chambers of Commerce, Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau, mayors, city administrators, county board members and more.
MCT Director SJ Morrison said the goal of the meeting was to gather information to help improve and develop the trail system in the future.
The trail system was developed beginning in 1993 when Jerry Kane was the director and MCT began buying up the abandoned railways throughout the county to develop into a network of Class 1 interconnected bikeway system. The system is made up of 9 trails utilizing 48 bridges and 22 tunnels totaling 137 miles in 7 loops.
Morrison said the aggressive acquisition program is unique, as MCT was one of the first transit districts in the United States to develop an interconnected bikeway system that is separated from the road system and not just a shoulder or bike lane.
This system also makes Madison County a unique tourist destination, with 14% of the users being visitors to the area. Trail users spent a mean average of $30.40 in the communities surrounding the trails on the day of their visit.
Several projects are currently in planning stages to begin this year with two of them planned for completion before the end of the year. An extension from the Schoolhouse Trail to Pleasant Ridge Park in Maryville is currently being designed and has been approved for $185,000 in grants through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Morrison said they hope to have this project completed by the end of 2020.
A shared use path from the MCT Park and Ride lot on Highway 40 and Spring Valley Rd in Troy to Turtle Creek. The path will run parallel to Troy-O’Fallon Rd with bike and pedestrian signals crossing Highway 40. The project is under contract with Hank’s Excavating to be completed by the fall.
MCT is currently in the process of acquiring land to create a spur off the Troy Trail connecting it to Lake Drive near Woodland Park in Collinsville on one end and to the Goshen Trail on the other end.
Paving of the Nickel Plate Trail from Illinois 143 to Blackburn Rd. north of Edwardsville is scheduled to be completed in Spring of 2021. That project has received $200,000 in funding from IDNR and $300,000 from the Metro East Park and Recreation District (MEPRD).
A portion of the workshop involved participants selecting which enhancements to the trail system were most important to them from a list of six. The top picks were trail beautification (native plants and colorful trees), improved wayfinding, and safety enhancements at at-grade crossings.
During public comments at the end of the workshop, representatives from all communities wanted expanded trails. Especially eager were members of the Alton/Godfrey community that want to see extended service into the Riverbend communities from the Confluence Trail that runs on the edge of the communities.
Madison County Transit Board of Trustees Chairman Ron Jedda went around to all of the tables to greet attendees. Jedda said “The responses from everyone was very positive and the workshop gave a good overview of the trail system. They were glad to find out MCT is looking to partner with communities to expand and enhance the trail system”.
Jedda said one of the board’s goals is looking at bridges and tunnels for trails to go over or under busy roads, such as the Schoolhouse Trail in Collinsville at Illinois 157 and in Pontoon Beach at Illinois 111.
The information collected at the meeting will be used to create an overall plan to be released to the public in late May or early June. At that time Jedda hopes to have an application process for communities to speed up the timetable to complete projects.
“The MCT Board has reserved millions of dollars for enhancements and improvements to trails, including spurs and extensions into towns and to parks” according to Jedda, adding “we’re basically telling people we have money to give away”.
If a park or community has an idea for an extension from an existing path they are encouraged to contact MCT with a proposal and they can have a plan with project costs and additional grant options (such as IDNR and MEPRD) in as little as 30 days.
In a phone interview this week, Morrison wanted to stress to the public “trails remain open and we encourage people to get out and exercise while following social distancing guidelines”.
He also added MCT is making plans for celebrating National Bike Month in May and to check www.mcttrails.org or the MCT Trails Facebook page for future announcements.