HANNA CITY, Ill. (WMBD) — The efforts to put a bike trail in Hanna City, which was voted down Tuesday by the village board, had been in the works since the early 2000s.
“We started talking about an opportunity for turning the abandoned railroad into a hiking and biking trail. There had not been a train across the railroad since, I think, 1986,” said Fred Winterroth, Hanna City resident and former mayor.
Winterroth has spearheaded the project for the duration of his mayoral career, which ended in April 2021 after choosing not to run for reelection.
“Not only would it be beneficial for Hanna City, economically and for families in our community to be able to use,” he said, “but, it’s more of a regional draw also.”
In 2008, he said, the railroad was officially abandoned, and Union Pacific filed for railbanking status through the Surface Transportation Board.
“If the railroad would ever want to return it to an active railroad, they could purchase it back,” he said.
This filing meant the 24.7-mile corridor of the railway would need to be purchased as one unit.
“This was a big project. This was almost 25 miles. Hanna City itself is only about 2.5 miles wide. So, that’s 10 times the area of a small village,” Winterroth said. “We just don’t have the resources to be able to care for that.”
The Village of Hanna City partnered with Peoria County, Bellevue, Farmington, and Fulton County (all with land along the corridor). It was decided, Winterroth said, to get 80% of the project covered by grant money.
Winterroth said while they were able to cover the other 20% of funding, they could not access the grant funding due to the State of Illinois not passing a budget to allocate that money. Winterroth decided to try again when another grant became available in 2020.
This time, they did not have the support of Bellevue or Fulton County, but the village still went forward with the application. Winterroth said the pandemic is to blame for the response that came 22 months later.
In January 2022, the grant was approved, and the community partners were full steam ahead.
Winterroth said the Surface Transportation Board gave the village a March 30 deadline. After negotiations, settling on a price, and going through inspections, the village asked for an extension to that deadline.
Ultimately, there were too many obstacles to hurdle over, so the board voted Tuesday to terminate the purchase of the corridor.
“I’ve worked on this project for many years,” Winterroth said. “And it was very disappointing to finally come to the end and say, ‘you know, we just can’t move forward with it.’”
However, he said he understands the reasoning.
“It’s difficult whenever you see a dream die, but you also don’t want to have something that’s going to hurt a community,” he said. “Transportation projects– everybody wants them, but they take a lot of time and a lot of work and a lot of effort to bring them to fruition.”
Had the project come together, Winterroth said, it would have been the largest singular trail system in the state, at almost 25 miles long.