Urbana bikers will have new path to follow thanks to grant

Eric Day of Champaign rides his bike on a High Street sidewalk on Monday afternoon in Urbana. Tessa Pelias, The Daily Illini

Eric Day of Champaign rides his bike on a High Street sidewalk on Monday afternoon in Urbana. Tessa Pelias, The Daily Illini

By Jon Hansen

A federal grant worth more than half a million dollars has been approved for Urbana’s effort to improve its bicycle paths.

In a press release earlier this month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced more than $60 million in enhancement grants statewide. The grants are part of the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, with more than 100 projects being approved in Illinois.

The City of Urbana will receive $558,000 for a bicycle and pedestrian path on High Cross Road. According to the release, the project will provide a highly visible bicycle path and also include landscape beautification along the route.

“It’s perfect timing,” Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said. “A lot of cities are looking at ways to improve bike paths. It makes sense for health reasons, and as the price of gas continues to rise, increased bicycle use makes sense from an economic and environmental standpoint as well.”

According to Prussing, the city of Urbana just added $35,000 to the budget in an effort to improve bicycle-pedestrian path planning. In addition, a new bicycle committee has been appointed to address continued improvement of paths in the city.

But construction on the High Cross Road project may not begin for a few years. According to Doug Miller, projects coordinator for the city of Urbana engineering division, several bureaucratic hoops remain.

“We have to meet with state officials and agree to a time line and various documentation requirements,” Miller said. “It depends on what the state says. It could be 2008 or 2009 before we start construction.”

Miller also says that the grant does not cover all project costs, and the city plans to apply for an additional grant from the Department of Natural Resources to make up some of the difference.

The program is highly competitive, and according to the Illinois Department of Transportation Web site, less than one third of the applicants were given a grant. The city of Champaign received $328,000 in funds to landscape the Interstate 57 and Curtis Road interchange.

According to Miller, the High Cross Road construction is not the only bicycle path-related project currently being undertaken by Urbana.

“As of right now, nine projects are active. That means they are in some sort of planning, engineering or construction phase at the present time,” said Miller.