Photo by McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson.
BLOOMINGTON — It’s been nearly 13 years since work began on the Historic Route 66 Bikeway in McLean County, and only two of the five phases of the project have been completed.
Over the years, some of the sections of the Historic 66 Bikeway that was designed to connect rural communities located along the Historic Route 66 corridor with Bloomington-Normal via a bicycle path have been completed, including a 3.7-mile section that connects Bloomington with Shirley, a 2.5-mile section that connects Normal with Towanda, a 2.3-mile section in Lexington and a 1.1-mile section in Chenoa.
Due to a lack of funding, several sections of the Historic Route 66 Bikeway still need to be constructed.
“We have an intergovernmental agreement that’s been in place since 1999,” said McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson. “The communities along the corridor, along with the county, made a planning decision that they believe that a long-distance trail running along with the Route 66 corridor would provide transportation solutions (by) connecting their rural and urban areas and provide community recreation as well for all those communities along the Route 66 corridor. So at that time all those communities and the county entered into an intergovernmental agreement to move forward on this project.
“It is limited by available funding and so it’s taking us awhile to complete the project, but we will continue to work on it on an incremental basis. Probably we didn’t think it would take us this long to get this far, but we’re clearly seeing a point where we’re really just missing a few links in some certain areas now.”
The State of Illinois recently awarded McLean County, the lead agency for the multi-governmental project, an $800,000 grant that was distributed through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program for the construction of a 2.51-mile section of the Historic Route 66 Bikeway.
The 2.51-mile section will extend from County Highway 29 in Towanda north to the end of the old alignment of Route 66. It will connect to the 2.5-mile section that connects Normal with Towanda, and is the third phase of construction of the Historic Route 66 Bikeway.
The bikeway will be completed in five phases and include 27 miles of trail, in addition to the existing 24-mile Constitution Trail that runs through Bloomington-Normal. It will provide a transportation and open space link between McLean County’s largest tract of forest — Funk’s Grove and the Mackinaw River corridor. It will unite many of the Route 66 points of interest in McLean County, including the Route 66 Walking Tour in Towanda and the legendary “Memory Lane” in Lexington.
Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grants, offered statewide, must have a 20 percent local match for the projects they fund. McLean County, Bloomington, Normal and the rural communities located along the Route 66 corridor must contribute $200,000 towards the project. McLean County will be responsible for $49,800 of those funds.
Still in the engineering phase, the project will not be officially implemented until 2014.
The League of Illinois Bicyclists has laid out the Illinois Route 66 Bike Trail, which runs from Chicago to the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area, and includes the Historic Route 66 Bikeway in McLean County.