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WGLT, an NPR station in central Illinois, is following every move at the Rivian manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle startup has gone from stealth mode to big-time player in the auto world, attracting attention (and big money) from companies like Ford and Amazon.

Normal Council OKs Extending Constitution Trail To Mother Road

The Normal Town Council meets remotely, Monday, April 19, 2021.

The Constitution Trail soon will connect a Route 66 landmark in Normal to a stretch of the historic road that winds north to Towanda as a bike path.

During its virtual meeting Monday, the Normal Town Council approved the Kelley Basin-Route 66 Trail Connection Project on a 6-1 vote. Council member Stan Nord was the only “no” vote.

This map shows the corridor area where Constitution Trail will expand, to connect with the Route 66 Bike Trail.

The town will pay $471,000 to Pontiac’s H.J. Eppel & Co. Inc. Beginning in July, crews will construct pathways from the corner of Pine and Beech streets, near the town-owned Route 66-era Sprague Super Service Station. The path will wind through the One Normal Plaza campus, around the Kelley Basin and then connect to the dead end of the Historic Route 66 bike trail. That stretch comes south from Towanda. 

“This is an important project for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety,” said Pat Dullard, a Normal resident and president of the Friends of Constitution Trail, who spoke during public comments.

The trail project not only is a quality-of-life improvement, but also is a nod for economic development, he said, adding the extension will boost Route 66 tourism along on the trail. 

The historic Mother Road, which stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles, opened in the 1920s and served as the main route West for decades. The Cruisin’ With Lincoln On 66 Visitors Center, in the McLean County Museum of History, celebrates the road’s McLean County’s stops. 

Dullard said to this day, Route 66 draws visitors from all over the world, including some he’s met that ride bicycles along parts or all of the famous 2,500-mile roadway.

A second resident, Ron Ullmer, spoke during comments against the proposal, saying he’d rather see potholes filled and other road improvements rather than a trail extension.

In his opposition, Nord echoed Ullmer’s concerns. “It all just comes down to priorities,” said Nord, who also questioned City Manager Pam Reece about which funds and tax revenues are used to cover the Eppel contract.  She said the town’s general fund will cover about 65% of the project, with a state grant covering the remaining third.

Several other council members praised the project, noting it's part of the town's overall bicycle-pedestrian master plan.The extension originally was put out for bid in 2018, but came in over estimates and was delayed until now with new bids. 

Council member Kathryn Lorenz said she disagreed with Nord’s assessment that either roads or the trail should get attention. The town funds a variety of categories, she said, including core infrastructure projects such as sewers, water mains, and roads. The town still can provide a quality-of-life improvement, if deemed important by town residents, she said.

“It makes sense to do this project now,” said Lorenz. The town has saved for it, and a supplemental state grant is available. She also reiterated the general fund is covering the project.

“I think getting down this rabbit hole of transportation vs park (dollars). You know what? It’s both. It is a mode of transportation for some. And, it is a linear park,” she said. 

Council member Karyn Smith agreed. “It is an asset that provides a quality of life, and it is transportation,” she said, adding she recently saw a person on the trail, traveling by motorized wheelchair. “Transportation doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone of the citizens in this community,” she said.

The leg of thetrail from Normal to Towandawas dedicated in 2017.

The town owns more than 20 acres of recreation fields on the One Normal Plaza grounds that also is home to the Community Activity Center.

The Kelley basin, developed in the1990s, sits between a subdivision and an access road that is part of the original Route 66. The new stretch of trail will wrap around the basin that is home to the community’s only cricket pitch.

Road resurfacing

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council voted unanimously to spend nearly $2 million on street resurfacing projects, awarding the contracts to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction, a subsidiary of United Contractors Midwest Inc. State motor fuel tax funds will pay for the work. 

About 1.75 miles along portions of the following streets will be resurfaced: West Raab Road, Fell and Normal avenues, Bowles and Gregory streets, and Bradford Lane. 

Digging a well

The council also voted unanimously to spend $353,000 to dig a new water well. 

The move will let the town abandon two other wells -- one near Anderson Pool and another near College Avenue in Anderson Park, according to council materials. 

Staff said a test drilling suggests a new well nearby will produce about 400 gallons of water per minute. The old wells have deteriorated and become clogged with sand. They both produce only 60-80 gallons per minute. Drilling is set for late May. 

Nord questioned whether the current proposal could handle expected water usage increases due to growth at Rivian Motors. But city staff assured him the wells could be reassessed as needed.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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