The most frequent question after Active Trans gives a presentation on our vision for a continuous Chicago River Trail is: "How will you fund this project?"
While it's an important question to ask, it's also important to keep in mind that many cities did not have resources on hand to pay for an entire trail as they were drawing up plans for it.
So they worked with available funding and found creative ways to add segments.
A combination of local, state, federal and private funds have been used by cities to build trails. The experience of other cities demonstrates that Chicago can find funding for a 27-mile continuous Chicago River Trail.
Here are three examples of U.S. trail projects and how they moved forward.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Planners started work on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in 1999. The city designated six cultural districts and connected them via the trail to promote the city's cultural assets.
Between 2001-03, $4 million was raised for initial design concepts and a private donor gave $15 million in 2007 which started work on the trail. And in 2010, the trail received a $20.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Indianapolis completed its 8-mile trail at a cost of $63 million in 2013. The project received $27.5 million in private support and $35.5 million from federal transportation grants.
Schuylkill River Trail
The Schuylkill River Trail (pictured above) is a multi-use trail in southeastern Pennsylvania with 60 completed miles and a projected length of 130 miles.
Like the Indianapolis trail, this path has a variety of funding sources. In 2016, the trail received a $3 million grant from the State of Pennsylvania to develop a 2.25 mile stretch in Philadelphia.
The regional planning agency also just announced a $100,000 grant to develop a nearby vacant building into a center with restrooms, bike repair equipment and refreshments.
Manhattan Waterfront Greenway
The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway in New York City recently made the news when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city will spend $100 million to fill the largest gap in this waterfront trail.
Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and last three years. The Department of City Planning first advanced the concept for a path around Manhattan in 1975.
The trail has drawn from multiple funding sources over time including the use of state and city funds to draw down federal matching funds.
These successful trail projects show a continuous trail along the Chicago River is well within our reach.
We already have 13.2 miles of existing segments along the river and an additional 1.7 miles getting underway in 2017. At the same time, multiple private and public projects are underway that provide immediate opportunities to develop new segments.
Chicago also has a strong philanthropic community that has demonstrated support for our trail networks. In December, Ken Griffin donated $12 million to create separated paths for people biking and people on foot along the Lakefront Trail.
We have all the ingredients to create a Chicago River Trail. The funding will come from a variety of sources. The lesson from other cities is that it's okay to start the process without having all the answers and find them along the way.
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