Wisconsin communities see hope for bicycle path

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In January, South Beloit officials learned the Illinois Department of Transportation was awarding the city a grant to complete the city’s bike path extension.

Municipalities to the north are hoping that they soon will be the recipients of similar assistance.

A conceptual plan exists for a bike path that would connect Beloit and Janesville; however, officials say that it could be years before construction could begin on a trail.

“We're looking for funding right now. There's a lot of people trying to work together to make this work,” said City of Beloit Director of Parks and Leisure Services Brian Ramsey. “We're probably several years out at this time from making it a reality.”

Further plans for the path will require continued collaboration between the City of Beloit, the Town of Beloit, Janesville, the Town of Rock, Rock County, and the Rock Trail Coalition.

“It's really quite a few entities that are involved with this,” Ramsey said.

The collection of municipalities and organizations hope that a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) or Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will help to make the path plausible.

“It's pretty much on stand-by right now. A lot of (the trail) is based on grants from the DOT and DNR,” said Rock Trail Coalition president Dean Paynter. “A lot of the time frame will be based on applying for the grants. Even if you get the grant, you don’t get the money for awhile.”

Senior Planner of SAA Design Ryan Garcia was responsible for submitting the grant application that garnered South Beloit its recent financial aid. South Beloit’s bike path would connect to the Beloit path over the Wheeler Bridge.

“There’s usually at least a six month period between the grant being awarded and when they want you to start building. They typically want you to spend the money within two years,” Garcia said. “We’ve been waiting for a bike trail between Beloit and Janesville for 35 years, so I think if the money was there, they would get to work on it pretty quick.”

Garcia noted that obtaining funds for the path is more complicated than simply submitting grant applications.

“Even with the grant programs, each is going to require a substantial match by the municipalities and coalition,” Garcia said. “The total cost is going to be several million dollars so even with a grant, it’s going to be a substantial amount that they need to fund themselves.”

While preparing grant applications, Paynter and company have been trying to lay as much groundwork as possible for the future.

“We have made proposals to some private property landowners between Afton and the Town of Beloit,” Paynter said. “We're hoping to get some appraisals and get some easements done in the next few months.”

In recent months, while waiting for specifics of the larger project to take shape, smaller, temporary trails have been created that Paynter hopes will eventually become part of the larger trail.

“We have a trail starting at Townline Road that goes south on Duggan Road. We go through Beloit Township land between Duggan Road and Walters Road,” Paynter said. “It's kind of just south of the agricultural fields in Beloit Township.”

In November, the trail was extended to include a run that continues south on Walters Road and then turns east just south of the Rock River Prairie State Natural Area. The temporary path runs east to the river before heading south behind the Beloit Wastewater Treatment Plant to Big Hill Park.

“The goal is that one day these trails will be part of the main trail,” Paynter said.

Preliminary plans for the bike path call for Krueger Park and Big Hill Park to be linked via a current path that stops at Caldwell Avenue. That path would be extended on South Shore Drive up to Millar Road and then continue on to Afton Road.

Afton Road has an on-street bike lane; however, the proposal hopes to create an off-road path that would better ensure cyclist safety.

The goal of this new path would be to connect Duggan Road to Third Street in the Town of Afton. From there, riders could continue with the on-street path to the route to Janesville.

The deadline for grant applications to the DNR come about annually in May while the DOT program comes about every other year during the summer although an exact date has not yet been set for 2013, according to Garcia

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