Work on two more Kickapoo Rail Trail segments to start in 2018

Work on two more Kickapoo Rail Trail segments to start in 2018

ST. JOSEPH — Construction will begin in 2018 on two small segments of the Kickapoo Rail Trail in both Champaign and Vermilion counties.

They'll eventually be added to the 6.7-mile section — the first phase of the 24-mile trail to be completed — that was opened in August between Urbana and St. Joseph.

A short piece within St. Joseph, about one-third of a mile long and paved with asphalt, will be under construction this summer and will be completed by 2019, said Mary Ellen Wuellner, interim executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. It will run from Main Street, where the trail now ends, to Seventh Street.

Also scheduled for construction next year, she said, is a 2.2-mile segment near Oakwood in Vermilion County.

"That part in Vermilion County has the oldest grant in place for construction. It was a federal grant awarded in 2010 for a 3.3-mile section including the big bridge over the Middle Fork. There also was money coming from the state for a match, but it's been frozen," she explained.

"So they're going to cut out the bridge portion for now and will do the remainder of their first phase, a 2-mile section from the (state Department of Natural Resources) ownership west to Oakwood. They have some local grant funding in place from the Vermilion Health Care Foundation and from Balloons Over Vermilion.

"They're anxious to get something done since our part has opened. The excitement has been contagious, and they're ramping up to get some trail on the ground over there, too. It's great to see."

After that, the next big piece likely to be built is a 5.1-mile section between St. Joseph and the Champaign-Vermilion County line east of Ogden.

The board of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District earlier this month approved a $299,055 design and construction engineering services contract with Farnsworth Group of Champaign to plan the project. Most of the money came from the federally funded Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, with the local match provided by funds raised by the Forest Preserve Friends Foundation.

Farnsworth is expected to begin work on the design this spring, Wuellner said.

"Probably the most time-intensive part will be the (Union Pacific Railroad) crossing at Glover, east of St. Joseph. The plan for that is to do an at-grade crossing. That means coordination with the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Federal Railroad Administration.

"That's the biggest challenge in this phase. There's no big bridge to build or anything like there was in phase 1."

Timing of the construction of the 5.1-mile segment depends on a solid cost estimate from Farnsworth so that the forest preserve district can apply for a federal grant, she said.

For now, "we anticipate it will be more than $2 million, meaning we'll have to raise $400,000 to $500,000 in matching funds" from local supporters, she said.

"The Friends Foundation doesn't plan to stop fundraising because right now the momentum is on our side. We know that we'll want to do construction as fast as we possibly can," Wuellner said. "We're not taking any time off from fundraising."

Meanwhile, the forest preserve district reports that it has begun a trail steward program of volunteers who monitor assigned segments of the trail and report to the paid staff on trail conditions and also perform minor trail maintenance, such as pruning back branches that could be a hazard to bicyclists.