The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) has been funded to study the extension of the Kickapoo Rail Trail (KRT) through Downtown Urbana.

The proposed rail trail would connect Urbana parks, homes, and businesses, Carle Foundation Hospital, and the University of Illinois.

The study area reaches from the current terminus of the KRT, near Walmart in east Urbana, and extends west to Lincoln Avenue.

$100,000 in federal funding was approved this week via the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Statewide Planning and Research Program. The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission wrote the funding request and will conduct the planning study with participation by local stakeholders.

“The KRT extension to Downtown Urbana and Carle Hospital will be an integral and hugely beneficial component of the Champaign-Urbana transportation network. It should be embraced and expanded based on its benefits to the community including its potential to be an economic driver for Downtown Urbana, reduce traffic, fight climate change through reduced vehicle emissions, and improve public health,” said Rita Morocoima-Black of CCRPC.

A $25,000 local match will be provided by Carle. “As a neighbor to the potential Kickapoo Rail Trail extension, Carle sees value in exploring opportunities and opinions for a path that would benefit neighbors and the community, as well as our employees, patients and visitors who would have direct access to this rail-trail,” said Carle President and CEO James C. Leonard, MD.

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin recognized Carle for its support and thanked the Urbana Park District and the Planning Commission for their efforts to bring the stakeholders together and apply for federal funding.

“This is visionary work that will have a significant positive impact on the community and the local economy,” said Marlin. “Extending the trail through Urbana will create a safe, accessible connection for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages travelling between downtown Urbana, Carle Hospital, and the University of Illinois.”

Urbana Economic Development Manager Brandon Boys agreed, “Off-street trails are a truly transformative land use. The KRT in Urbana will bring residents closer together and make local businesses more accessible.”

The Urbana Park District played a key role in convening stakeholders and initiating early planning for the concept. “We are excited to partner with the City of Urbana, Regional Planning Commission, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and Carle to study our plan to extend the KRT into downtown Urbana. The Park District is always looking to expand access to our trails and parks and this grant will help us determine if extending the KRT is feasible,” said Timothy Bartlett, executive director, Urbana Park District.

The Champaign County Forest Preserve District is equally as enthusiastic. “The local community is already seeing the benefits from the first phase of the KRT — both in terms of new business start-ups and people enjoying getting outdoors. The Forest Preserve District is delighted to continue working with our Champaign County partners to take the trail westward into downtown Urbana, while we continue building to the east — into Vermilion County and eventually to the City of Danville,” Mary Ellen Wuellner, CCFPD Executive Director said.

The planning efforts will last approximately two years and are expected to culminate in a final report including recommendations and design concepts.

Connectivity within Urbana would be enhanced by the extension of the KRT, and would give people better access to Urbana parks, programs and other recreational amenities. Urbana, being designated as a Gold Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists in 2014, recognizes that this connectivity would also be highly accessible for not only bicyclists, but for people using wheelchairs, strollers, rollerblades and skateboards, as well.

Convenient access to the Urbana downtown area restaurants, activities and services for those along the University Avenue Corridor would greatly be improved.

The Champaign County Forest Preserve District started development on phase I of the KRT in spring 2016. The Urbana to St. Joseph trail is open for hiking, biking, and other non-motorized travel.Trails create safe, alternative transportation corridors for riders of all skillsets, preserve culturally and historically valuable areas, and invest in communities by creating recreational opportunities and the connectedness of people. To donate to the KRT, go to www.kickapoorailtrail.com or call 217-586-3360.