Plans to complete a portion of the Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha bike trail in Caledonia are on hold, local officials said.
Land acquisition issues and concerns about the viability of the project have kept county officials from advancing on plans to extend the trail between Six and Seven Mile roads, said David Prott, director of public works for Racine County.
County Board Supervisor Ken Hall said the project stalled after plans to put a bridge over railroad tracks in the area fell apart because of expansion at the WE Energies power plant in Oak Creek. When the tracks were widened, power lines were moved and part of Seven Mile Road was closed
"The bike bridge plan became impractical," he said.
Since then, county officials have explored buying land in the area. But homeowners haven’t seemed interested, said Michael Hayek, village engineer in Caledonia.
Hayek sent letters to the six affected homeowners asking them to consider selling a 40-foot strip at the back of their properties, near the railroad tracks.
"We only had one person respond," he said, "And the answer was 'no.'"
Village officials considered seizing the land. But, Hayek said, two board members were against using imminent domain to complete the bike path; those trustees were not available for comment.
Hayek said he is in favor of exploring imminent domain -- a path Hall also supported looking into. But if trustees won’t consider condemning the land and homeowners won’t sell, then Hayek said, “it’s done.”
Hall had the same fear, especially since some officials have considered returning the more than $400,000 in grant money Racine County received to build the bike bridge and complete the path. Total costs for the bridge project were estimated at $1.7 million.
"I had hoped county officials might consider some other use for the grant money," he added. "Maybe planners could seek an easement on the east side of the railroad tracks."
Hall, a bicyclist, also thought it might be worthwhile to explore re-opening a portion of Seven Mile Road, west of Michna Road, which was closed because of the power plant expansion and led to the bike bridge plan.
If that stretch of road were accessible, officials could extend the bike path along Michna Road, a less-traveled alternative to busy Highway 32 – the only other connector route for bicyclist trying to bridge the trail gap between Six and Seven Mile roads.
Planners could consider paving part of the shoulder along Highway 32 and painting a white line to create a bike path, suggested Art and Cathy Hicks, who live in Mount Pleasant. Cathy is the president of the Kenosha Racine Bike Club.
It’s not ideal, Cathy admitted, but there would at least be a separation between riders and auto traffic.
"It would be a safer,” said Cathy.
Whatever happens, Art Hicks said officials should consider finishing the path – and not just for bicyclists, but also for runners, joggers and families, who walk the trail, sometimes even with strollers.
Hall agreed, especially since the Caledonia gap is the only missing link in a path that otherwise connects from Chicago to Milwaukee
“The original vision of a continuous trail is a good one, and we shouldn’t give up on it,” he said. "I would like to keep the pressure on to find a solution.”