Monroe County hosted hearings this week to gather public feedback on a proposed project that would construct a bike lane along Bluff Road from Columbia to Valmeyer.
This idea has been in the works for about six weeks because that is when the county learned it could receive an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant to cover 80 percent of the costs, according to Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger.
“It came up with the grant funds being available. This kind of project is an eligible project,” Metzger said. “Originally, it started out as just paving the shoulders. With this huge amount of money available for projects like this, it kind of morphed into this bigger shoulder and paved bike lane.”
The bike lane would run approximately 14 miles from DD Road in Columbia to E. Main Street in Old Valmeyer.
The county plans to complete the work in phases, with the first phase being about 5.37 miles from DD Road to Hanover Road.
That section of work alone would cost an estimated $2.5 million, with $2 million coming from the grant and the rest from the county.
The approximately four foot wide bike lane would be fully paved with asphalt and would have a uniform slope.
“It’s not a designated bike trail or separated bike path. It’s just a bike lane,” Metzger stressed. “It’s a paved shoulder accommodating bicycles.”
Giving public notice and soliciting input are the first steps in getting the ITEP grant, which is why Monroe County held the open houses.
The first one took place Monday evening at 11 South in Columbia. Metzger said 27 people attended, with more in favor of the trail than against it.
“I thought it went fine,” Metzger said of the event. “The opponents were vocal, but the majority were supporting it, some with reservations.”
The Republic-Times spoke with six people at the event who provided written feedback to the county, with three for the project and three against it.
Wendy McFarland of Waterloo said she is part of a group of cyclists who like to bike on Bluff Road, and they support it.
“We we would welcome any opportunity for safety for both cars and bicycles,” she said.
Safety was the theme among supporters.
“We would be glad to see it happen,” said Carol Dexter, who lives off Bluff Road. “We drive that stretch almost daily, and we’d love to see it safer for bicyclists.”
“I think it’s fantastic. I fully support it,” agreed Alan Lesko. “As a driver who drives Bluff Road every day, for the safety of me as a driver and the safety of the bikers, this is a no-lose proposition.”
Lesko also said he thought the extra shoulder space would give large vehicles like combines more room to maneuver.
Glenn Stumpf of Columbia disagreed on that point, saying the width of agriculture equipment could cause problems, the guardrails and bridges along the route are not designed for a bike lane, there are blind spots because of hills and the county would have to pay for more patrols along the route.
“I think it’s not a good idea because of safety issues,” said Stumpf, who farms in the Bottoms. “The road’s got too much traffic for a four-foot bike path.”
Those points were seconded by another man who declined to identify himself.
That individual also argued there was zero economic benefit to Monroe County because the lane would cost too much to maintain.
“Bikers will park on agricultural levees,” he added. “No parking signs are needed for these levees. There is no parking for the bikers.”
The man also had safety concerns, saying it would be
better if the county put a bike lane on the asphalt shoulder on Route 3 between Waterloo and Columbia.
“Please stand five feet off of Bluff Road for an hour and tell me that’s a safe idea,” he said of the proposed route.
Gail and Scott Loesch, who live in rural Waterloo, also said they support the idea in principal, but not with this route.
“I think it encourages people to ride along that road, and I don’t think that’s safe,” Gail said. “I agree with the idea for our area to encourage bicycling because it’s a gorgeous area.”
Scott recommended constructing the bike lane on side roads near Bluff Road.
The county will now examine the feedback from the 11 South open house and one held from 4-6 p.m. tonight at Fountain Inn to determine whether to continue the process of pursuing this grant.
If it does, Metzger said the earliest construction on the bike lane could begin is late 2022 because of how long the process takes.
Bluff Road has long served as a popular route for bicyclists, but there is minimal shoulder so they ride on the roadway.
Per state law, bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws, signs and signals that apply to motorists, and must ride in the same direction as other traffic.
When passing, motorists are required by law to allow at least three feet of space between them and a bicyclist.
On Sept. 19, a bicyclist from St. Louis was injured after being struck by a pickup truck on Bluff Road south of Columbia.