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Bike trails could expand across Iowa

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | FEBRUARY 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Johnson County residents could potentially see a connection between major bike trails with two other counties extending from Cedar Falls through Cedar Rapids.

Johnson, Linn, and Black Hawk County officials asked the state for $8.2 million to help connect a network of trails to help create recreation, tourism, economic development, and workforce development.

Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said segments of the trails have been developing for almost 10 years. He presented the project to the House-Senate transportation, infrastructure, and capital appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday.

“Johnson County has concentrated on creating more than 80 miles in trails from Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, and this project now starts to connect into rural areas of Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls area,” Neuzil said. “This could be a major economic development, and this is a pretty massive undertaking, but it’s something we know will be a huge draw for eastern Iowa.”

The route would extend from Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Cedar Falls to Iowa City’s Hoover Nature Trail, as well as to Solon and West Branch toward Muscatine.

The trail segment from Solon to Ely, which is 5.2 miles, would include six bridges and would cost $3.58 million, for which the Johnson County Conservation Department has committed $1 million. Linn County requested a total of $2.4 million, and Black Hawk County requested $3 million in funding from the state.

Mary Copper, the vice president of Bicyclists of Iowa City, said the project would be a huge benefit to that organization and other bicyclists in Johnson County. Copper said the group is made up of more than 400 bicyclists in Johnson County, and riders have traveled across Iowa to use longer trails — trips often costing a lot in travel expenses. She said the group often uses the trail from Hiawatha to Cedar Rapids.

“I think it would be beneficial because if we had a trail from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, we wouldn’t need to pack and load all of our supplies and bikes on trailers to use the bike trails,” Copper said. “Biking is so big in this community, and I think a trail like this would be highly utilized.”

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he wants the committee to think “long-term” for the project funding.

“The committee needs to think long-term to fund the trails for the long haul,” he said. “We need to use our vision to look for ways to try to generate more matching grants throughout the state.”

McCoy said he believes it is a doable project, but it’s going to take legislators time to invest in the whole trail system and look more into the expenses.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said some Iowans are questioning the cost and whether the state should create more trails instead of working on county roads and bridges.

“Some people aren’t aware some of that money is specifically targeted for modes of transportation, and the money that flows through the state of Iowa for modes of transportation can be targeted specifically for trails,” Johnson said.

Although there is a portion delegated to trails from specific transportation funds, area officials said there is still more work to be done in Johnson County.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he believes the county has been doing pretty well with keeping up with the commitments it has made in creating trails, but he believes more work can be done.

“Well, I’ll be honest — I think a lot of the state money has been stuck in Polk County for way too long,” Sullivan said. “I think a lot of people in eastern Iowa can benefit from this, and I think this should send a few of those projects our way.”


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