A joint trail connector project between Waterloo and Monroe County has stalled due to lack of funding.
The county and city sought to fund the North Waterloo Trail Connector through Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grants, but this year’s grant application was recently rejected.
“ITEP is very competitive,” Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger said. “The way I look at it is you have every mayor in the state trying to improve their city.”
The proposed project would create a loop of sidewalks and bike trails from Rogers Street and Country Club Lane across Route 3 to North Market Street.
Without the grant money, the project has been delayed and its future is uncertain.
“It’s up in the air at this point,” Metzger said of the timeline and plans for the project.
The ITEP grant program is administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
According to the rejection, downsides of the application included that engineering was not complete and right-of-way is needed, meaning the project is not as shovel ready as others that competed in the same category.
Positive aspects of the application were that federal money was only requested for the construction phase and it has an early anticipated construction date.
“This project had a good score, but other projects scored a little better,” ITEP coordinator Christy Davis wrote to Metzger in an email.
A total of 218 applications were filed for 2018, with only 53 being approved. Making matters more competitive, 135 applications came in the same category the North Waterloo Trail Connector falls under.
The process for applying for ITEP grants is a lengthy one.
Eligible applicants or project sponsors must be local entities with taxing authority that can guarantee matching funds to carry out the proposed project. This includes local governments, school districts or tribal governments.
Applicants then apply to one of nine categories including pedestrian/bicycle facilities, which is what this project falls under.
Finally, the project goes through a multi-step approval process that considers 15 criteria such as public benefits and accessibility and project support/local commitment.
In the 2018 application, the city and county requested $296,800 in federal dollars to help with the project. The local governments would then split a remaining $199,190 in local match dollars. That total is not yet divided between the city and county.
In addition to this stalled attempt, the county and city applied for an ITEP grant in 2016. In 2017, they also applied for a transportation alternative program grant.
Both those applications were denied.
The idea for the project originated after other recently completed projects in the area on Route 3 and Rogers Street created bike trails that dead ended. The recently completed Route 3 improvement project from North Market to South Market included a shared use path.
“The idea came from connecting the dots and wanting to create a loop,” Metzger said. “We wanted to create a trail instead of two dead ends.”
Metzger said the project would benefit the community by increasing safety for pedestrians, giving citizens another way to exercise and providing easier access to businesses in the area.
Because of those benefits, city and county applications featured several letters of support. State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) and State Rep. Jerry Costello II (S-Smithton) wrote letters backing the project.
Human Support Services, which is located off Country Club Lane, also voiced support for the trail connector.
“We have clients and staff that would take advantage of the connection to walk for exercise and even to get to other parts of the city,” HSS Executive Director Anne King wrote. “The project would also improve the safety of persons wanting to cross Route 3 at the traffic light where it intersects with Country Club Lane. We have many clients that attempt to cross this intersection to get to the businesses across the street and this project would be a much needed safety improvement for them.”
Residents also wrote in support of the project. In addition to the benefits of accessing nearby businesses, Country Club Lane resident Michael Schneider wrote that the proposed sidewalk and bike trail would help people get to work.
“This project will provide a safer and healthier way to some residents to commute,” Schneider wrote. “Each morning, I see people walking next to or in Country Club Lane on their way to work along Route 3 or possibly to the Metro bus stop. Obviously, this project will be a great improvement for them.”