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MetroLink light rail corridor in Illinois would include trail

Rail with trail project would span 27-miles

By Robert Goodrich
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Staff

"This would be the first such trail in the nation built concurrently with a light rail line."

Private donors have pledged more than $86,000 for plans for a 27-mile walking and bicycle trail along the same corridor that will be used to extend the MetroLink light rail system from East St. Louis to Scott Air Force Base.

That money will go toward the 20 percent local and state share of the project, according to Barb Ducey of Belleville, fund-raising chairman.

And backers have come up with their own name: MetroBikeLink.

Plans are to build the trail at the same time as the MetroLink extension, and in the same two phases.

The first phase would extend to Belleville Area College from the MetroLink station at Fifth Street and Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis; the later phase would stretch from the college to Mid-America Airport just beyond Scott Air Force Base.

The trail would be paved and open to walkers, cyclists, joggers, in-line skaters, runners and people in wheelchairs.

The plan has the support of Gateway Trailnet Inc., a regional land trust formed in 1988 with help from the city of St. Louis and McDonnell Douglas Corp. workers.

Trailnet's mission is to develop multi-use trails, conserve greenways and encourage walking and bicycling for recreation and transportation throughout the metro area and beyond.

Ted Curtis, executive director of Trailnet, said the MetroBikeLink trail would follow the same 100-foot-wide corridor as MetroLink but with enough separation to guarantee safety.

Trails on abandoned railways are common, and a few have been put in along a light rail corridor after the rail line is built, but this would be the first such trail in the nation built concurrently with a light rail line, Curtis said.

"We think it will draw national attention," he said.

The project's estimated cost is $7.5 million. Its supporters hope to get 80 percent, or $6 million, in federal funds.

Curtis said Rep. Jerry F. Costello, D-Belleville, is an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal, but he needs evidence of strong local backing to win federal dollars, which is one reason private donors are are being asked for money first. "Costello needs ammunition," he said.

Gateway Trailnet believes the balance of the project's cost, $1.5 million, should be divided about equally, with the state, local governments and private donor categories each contributing about $500,000.

Michael Fries, an engineer and Gateway Trailnet member, said the MetroBikeLink would get more use than a more rural, purely recreational trail such as the Katy Trail in Missouri because it would go through a much more heavily populated area.

Also, he said it could be used by people going to school or work, not just for recreation.

MetroLink would add to its use, he said. People could get on and off the trail at any station. Cyclists could ride part way to work and ride the rest, or vice versa.

Joggers could ride part way home and run the rest, or vice versa.

Families could accompany their children along the trail until parents or youngsters got tired, then ride back to their home or car.

Curtis agreed. "They can build on each other as an asset to the community," he said.

March 18, 1997

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