Urbana working with Carle on proposed Kickapoo Rail Trail expansion

Urbana working with Carle on proposed Kickapoo Rail Trail expansion

URBANA — Amid ongoing litigation between the city and Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin thinks the two entities should still collaborate, and a plan to expand the Kickapoo Rail Trail will allow them to do just that.

The plan requires a collaborative effort from the city and hospital, along with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and Urbana Park District. Carle is contributing $25,000 as a grant match to $100,000 from the Illinois Department of Transportation, which will allow the planning commission to conduct a feasibility study on expanding the rail trail.

The vision, Marlin said, is to expand the pedestrian and bike trail westward from its current terminus at the intersection of East Main Street and U.S. 150/University Avenue through the northern edge of downtown, the southern edge of Crystal Lake Parkand Carle's hospital campus, stopping at the intersection of Lincoln and University avenues, near the northeastern edge of the University of Illinois campus.

"If we can get this built, it will connect downtown with Crystal Lake Park, Carle, the University of Illinois and the eastern portion of the trail," Marlin said Friday. "It would be transformative for the city as a whole."

Improved connectivity is one of Urbana's goals. The city is also gathering renovation ideas for Lincoln Square Mall and its surroundings, in hopes of linking it to neighbors outside downtown.

If the study recommends trail expansion, Marlin said it will take time and significant fundraising to do so.

"We're still dealing with our rail line that has two trains a week," Marlin said about areas near the proposed expansion.

Local and state taxing authorities have been in a years-long legal battle with Carle over property taxes. The state Supreme Court sent the case back to circuit court in 2017, when former Mayor Laurel Prussing was in office.

Marlin said that collaborating with Carle has been one of her goals since she was elected, which came later in 2017. She noted that the proposed trail expansion would allow Carle employees to easily go downtown for lunch.

"Our goal ... is to give people a reason to come to Urbana," Marlin said. "These rail trails are very popular and great from a tourism, economic-development and health-and-wellness standpoint."

In addition to that, Marlin said the choice is logical when looking at the area. And she said people already use the path's right of way like a trail now.

"I really started advocating for this when I was standing at the railroad by Boneyard Creek Crossing," Marlin said. "You look east and west, and it's ... a very wide, straight shot. It's so obvious when you look at it."