By Zachary Daum
Lebanon local non-profit organization Gateway East Trails may soon be receiving $900,000 for their planned multi-use Trolley Trail project. In late December of 2022, Senator Dick Durbin signed an appropriations bill that included these funds.
The Lebanon portion of the appropriations bill states, “Trolley Trail Connector, Metro East: $900,000 to Gateway East Trails to complete engineering on a bicycle/pedestrian trail project that will connect Lebanon, MidAmerica Airport, Scott Air Force Base, and Belleville.”
This appropriation of money comes from the efforts of Gateway East Trails, a local nonprofit centered around bicycling and hosts the annual Tour de Stooges bicycling tour.
GET (Gateway East Trails) member George Fero discussed why it was named the trolley trail and where it will go. “The trolley line used to run from Lebanon to St. Louis and the old route happened to go across the wetland at Silver Creek. Because the route we have proposed for the multi-use trail is along that route, that’s why we decided to call it the trolley trail. At least for the first couple of miles or so. What’s neat about it is the route goes parallel with route 50. A lot of the rail bed is still intact and there are stone abutments where bridges used to cross Silver Creek and other tributaries.”
Fero continued, explaining that the complete project will take much more money and more time. “Our discussions with the Illinois Historical Society and state departments said that we would have to leave the historic rock abutments in place for their historical value. We will have to go over them. This (information) came from a preliminary engineering report. It told us ‘what’s the approximate cost?’ As a result, the one mile segment between Belleville St. and Reider Road is a 3 million dollar project because of the bridges and the fact that we have to purchase a few parcels of land. Otherwise most of the land we are going across is public. That is only one phase. The St. Clair County transit district wants us to connect to the metro link station at Mid-America Airport. One way or another we have to connect to that to have our support. They funded a study to determine what are the best routes to get to the station by multi-use trail. They came up with three viable routes that cost 5 million dollars to 10 million dollars. The 10 million dollar route is the shortest. It would require widening of Rieder Road south of route 50 and putting in a new railroad overpass even though it’s a discontinued railroad.”
He also discussed how he lobbied for this money, during a bicycle trip in Washington DC. “GET is a member of the League of American Bicyclists and I, on behalf of Gateway East Trails, attend the annual Bicycle Summit (in Washington DC). At that summit one of the things we do is we have one day of the summer, one day on (capitol) hill. When I was there, there were 800 cyclists from around the country at this summit. While we were there we visited the office of every member of congress to have a sit down meeting to discuss what our asks were. Our asks have been transportation funding, bike trails, infrastructure and safety for pedestrians. We have gotten a lot of that because we are a pretty big lobby if you look at the group. Through those meetings with Dick Durbin and Congressman Bost we created a relationship.“
After working with Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Bost for a few years, GET’s request was sent before congress and approved. Although approved, the organization must still meet a 20% match to the money allotted from the appropriations bill.
Fero believes that if everything works out as planned, the first section of the trail will be finished by Summer, 2024 at the earliest. At that point people will be able to enjoy the trail from Lebanon to Reider Rd. If anyone is interested in joining or donating to Gateway East Trails non-profit can find more information on www.gatewayeasttrails.org. Registration is open for their Tour de Stooges fundraiser as well at www.tourdestooges.org.