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Cindy Beetz (left) with Coco and Jamie Beetz with Emme Beetz in the stroller take advantage of the existing path around Mendota Community Hospital. If the City of Mendota is successful, a 10-foot wide multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists will connect the path from First Avenue along U.S. 34 to near Interstate 39.
MENDOTA — A recent grant application by the city of Mendota still has some residents criticizing the direction of a multi-use path and whether there would be enough “use” if $1.2 million was allocated to the project. Carol Ramer, one of the more vocal critics, said she just flat-out doesn’t understand the need for a bicycle path along U.S. 34 from First Avenue to East 525th Road. “How ridiculous, how stupid,” she said. “We need a bike path in so many other places. The high school had been approached and (an alderman) said the administration did not want a bike path to the high school. So I called the different board members and they would love to have a safer way for the kids to get to school. There’s a YMCA on the other end of town and healthy people would probably love to bike to the Y.” The Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program opened applications for a federally-funded multi-use path. Mayor David Boelk said the city would like to run the 10-foot path east toward the interstate to serve both Mendota Community Hospital and Del Monte Foods. He also noted the city anticipates further growth along that corridor. In the short term, he’s not sure how many pedestrians and cyclists would actually use the path. “How much usage I don’t know,” he said. “I do know there’s a lot of bicycle traffic and foot traffic out there. I know a lot of it is to Del Monte.” Boelk said he has received complaints about access to the hospital from people who don’t drive. While it would be nice to have a way to reach the hospital and other employers, both current and future, he said it wasn’t until federally-backed money became available that the city even considered pursuing the project. Cindy Beetz of Mendota said she would definitely use the multi-use path if it became a reality. “I love that idea,” she said. “I walk out here several times a week in nice weather.” She currently drives to the walk path around Mendota Community Hospital. Extending the path from First Avenue east to the hospital and eventually Interstate 39 would see more pedestrians and bicyclists. Brett King with King Engineering, the city’s engineering firm, said criticism about the route doesn’t take into consideration the parameters of the program. The path can not be used for purely recreational purposes which would rule out a path to Mendota’s new YMCA building on Rt. 251 south of the city. The program also requires the path serve several locations, not just a single location such as Mendota High School. King said several people, including Ramer, had suggested the path would better serve the Y than the handful of businesses on U.S. 34. But the recreational purpose of the path would get the project disqualified. Another reason for selecting U.S. 34 is the state’s bridge replacement project currently slated for 2014. King said the state required the addition of a sidewalk near East Fourth Road. The state also required a sidewalk along U.S. 34 as part of the road widening and construction of the new Mendota Community Hospital facility. The sidewalks are five feet wide, the new multi-use path connecting them will be 10-feet wide. Ramer said if the city and state are set on a path along U.S. 34, then they should be looking at the north side of the highway instead of the south side. “I could see it on the north side and cross the road just before the creek,” she said. “They need to stay out of people’s front yards. A 10-foot wide path through your front yard is just not appealing.” The only problem with that idea is the existence of utility poles along the north side of the highway. King estimates it would add another $300,000 or more to the cost of the project if the path went along the north side. That additional expense would most likely disqualify the city’s application. While the city will have to provide 20 percent of the total cost, Boelk said pursuing the grant was an easy decision. “(The money’s) there and if somebody downstate doesn’t get it, then Chicago will get it,” Boelk said. “I definitely think it will be a benefit.” Ramer counters that the existence of federally-backed funds shouldn’t be the only criteria. Instead the city should study actual traffic patterns whether by motor vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians before committing to this project.