Five years in the making, the Troy-O’Fallon Bike Trail Connector project is pedaling forward ahead of schedule with a completion date expected by next December.
When finished, the $9.9 million project, which is largely being constructed on abandoned railroad right of way, will link up the 130 miles of pedestrian/bike trails that crisscross Madison County with the 183 miles of shared-use trails in St. Clair County.
“Soon, homes and neighborhoods in O’Fallon will have wonderful access to a larger trail that will connect the two counties,” said Jerry Kane, managing director of Madison County Transit, the agency overseeing the project.
The new 8-mile trail will tie into the MCT system by connecting with the Goshen Trail that ends near Interstate 55 by Troy. The new trail’s route will go under I-55, following along Wilson Heights Road, which also runs beneath the highway there.
South of I-55, the trail will run along the dead-end street Mary Mae Avenue, where it will then intersect with the former railroad corridor and cross into St. Clair County. It will eventually hook up with O’Fallon’s Kyle Road and the 200-acre Family Sports Park.
“The trail project is a significant one,” Kane said. “It may seem like its taking a long time to finish, but things like this do.”
About 1.26 miles of the Troy-O’Fallon project was completed as of last spring.
Since then, a lot more preliminary work has been completed along the old railroad line. Trees and brush that once choked the path have been removed. Grading has been done, followed by the laying aggregate base foundation for the path.
Tree and brush removal, storm sewer, pipe culverts replacement, rip rap, concrete sidewalk under 55/70 bridge and south along Wilson Avenue. Grading and aggregate base from existing MCT Goshen Trail to Wilson Heights Road and Troy Road intersection is also done, as well as preliminary grading of trail from Mary May Avenue, south to Clay School Road.
The largest hurdle to clear will be the installation of four bridges — work which will be largely weather-dependent.
Deck Bridge, which is south of Loyet Road in Madison County, is 90 percent completed. However, warmer weather will be need before the job can be finished (likely April).
Luckily, though the spans have been removed, abutments from old railroad bridges still remain at three the at two bridge locations, allowing for the installation of pre-engineered bridges with the support of the existing structures.
“Thank goodness for the railroad alignments. It would be cost prohibitive to put in new corridors for a trail of this magnitude,” Kane said.
The top area of the existing bridge abutments at Lockmann and Ogles Creek have been removed for the height of the new pedestrian bridges. The Lockmann Road Bridge, which will carry the trail over the road as well as the CSX railroad tracks in rural Collinsville Township, is scheduled to be in place by August. The Ogles Creek Bridge, near O’Fallon, is scheduled to be done by May.
The trail over Bethel Road, near the intersection of Simmons and Witte roads, north of O’Fallon, will be the last bridge completed. At this location, workers have mounded up dirt on both sides the the road necessary to make an overpass. The embankment work is done, and but it’s anticipated the bridge will not be in place there until October.
Pros & cons of the trail
For the most part, Kane said bike trails have been well received in Madison County.
“In fact, it’s become — it seems — one of Madison County’s greatest tourist attractions,” he said.
For example, “some groups from Chicago come down to spend a week riding the local trails in Madison and St. Clair counties, which is great for local economy,” Kane said.
But not everyone agrees.
Linda Scheibel lives at 309 Bethel Road and has watched the new trail develop since last spring, when workers started clearing nearby woods that she could see from her front yard.
“I’m not happy about it, because they cut down hundreds and hundreds of trees and just chopped ’em all up and got rid of it,” Scheibel said.
For 18 years, Scheibel said she’s watched the area around her change, but loosing so much old growth left her speechless.
“I can’t see Witte (Road) anymore (due to the overpass). I used to be able to see Witte… I just don’t understand why they would spend so much money on something like that. I don’t understand it,” she said.
According to Scheibel, the intersection where the trail bridge will go overhead is already dangerous, and the overpass embankment makes line-of-sight issues worse.
“This traffic is so bad now that there’s ‘close-to’ accidents all the time,” Scheibel said.
Personally, Scheibel said she thinks her new front yard view is an “eyesore.” However, she acknowledged there may be benefits to others.
“I’m not a bicycle person, our family doesn’t do that. So maybe it’ll be good for people, but I don’t like it,” Scheibel said.
A few houses down from Scheibel, at the intersection of Simmons and Bethel roads, Keith Miller said the project, doesn’t bother him at all.
“I think it would be better anyway to get them off the road with their bicycles — a lot safer with the trail,” Miller said.
O’Fallon resident and avid cyclist Harlan Gerrish, 70, who also served as Ward 7 alderman in recent years, said he “looks forward to the trail’s completion.”
“I’m enthusiastic about it. I cycle everyday, and it will be close to my home, about 3-4 miles. So this is great,” he said.
Gerrish said he’s been cycling through the countryside for 30 years and prefers to ride from home, rather than drive to a trail for a ride.
From where he lives in rural O’Fallon, Gerrish said it would take a half-hour or more to get onto other trails. “And I always ride from home, he said. “So with this trail, it’ll be much more accessible. So maybe it’ll encourage my wife to ride with me more.”
A member of Gateway East Trails, Gerrish said he’s also looking forward to breaking ground on a smaller trail project in Lebanon that was funded 100 percent by cyclist donations, rather than taxpayer dollars.
“I don’t think this is a great use of tax payer dollars, especially with the state of Illinois now, but it’ll increase cycling in O’Fallon, and I think make it easier for people to connect to the Madison County Trails, too,” Gerrish said.
The funding vehicle for the project is the Metro East Park & Recreation District, which draws its revenue from a voter-approved sales tax.
Keller Construction is the lead contractor.
Other funding sources include the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant, St. Clair County Transit District.
“It’s 100 percent funded by Metro East Park and Recreation District assembling the funding package, and MCT with their history of success with many trail projects is really the only way this project was going to happen,” Kane said. “It’s truly been another successful partnership between two governmental bodies working together.”
At a glance
This is the trail completion time line:
- December to March: Weather permitting, final grading, cement stabilization and rock base from Mary May Avenue, south to Clay School Road; preliminary grading of trail from Clay School Road, south to Kyle Street; lining of culverts under high embankments.
- April-May: Asphalt, stripe and sign trail from Mary May Avenue to Loyet Road.
- June: Open the section of trail from Loyet north to the MCT Goshen trail intersection.
- April to August: Cement stabilize, aggregate base and asphalt the remaining trail that is not affected by bridge installation.
- October and November: Complete trail sections omitted for bridges erection work.