Thursday, August 5, 2004,
Ozaukee bike trail improvement project is worthy of public and private
support, especially from an image-conscious utility. Bicyclists and
pedestrians are out in force this summer, but no longer are they relegated
to sharing the pavement with fast-moving cars and trucks.
Scores of them - young and old, locals and tourists alike - are using
the Ozaukee Interurban Bike Trail, a beautiful 30-mile stretch of pavement
that, with a few notable exceptions, keeps its users out of the path of
motor vehicle traffic.
The trail runs the length of Ozaukee County from Belgium to Mequon,
taking riders and walkers through secluded rural areas where birds flit
among wildflowers and into the downtowns of communities like Port
Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg, where Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee
River offer scenic distractions.
For all its merits, however, the trail is imperfect. At roughly its
midpoint between Port Washington and Grafton, it leads users on a perilous
detour from the off-road interurban railway line right of way along busy
county roads and highways. Particularly dangerous is one stretch that
forces riders to cross Highway W, then ride along this speedway populated
by numerous semis.
To their credit, county officials and citizen members of the Interurban
Trail Advisory Council have recognized this danger and secured a $1
million grant to reroute the trail and build a bridge over I-43 that will
keep trail users off road.
But there's a catch - a $250,000 local contribution is required and a
County Board that was instrumental in coordinating the bike trail project
has been less than supportive of the improvement project. Although the
local share could be as low as $125,000 if another promising grant can be
secured, some supervisors have said the county won't kick in a dime.
The county should continue to invest in a trail that offers recreation,
exercise and pollution-free transportation opportunities, not to mention
an attraction that brings tourists and their money to the county, but it
is unlikely the mood of the board will change.
Recognizing this, the trail advisory group has launched a campaign to
raise the funds from private sources. The trail project is a worthy cause,
for some more than others.
The bike trail runs primarily along interurban railway line owned by We
Energies. The improvement project would incorporate even more of the
off-road right of way into the trail.
A contribution from We Energies would be a logical investment in a
project that will help reclaim this historical railway line that serves as
a reminder of the utility's longtime presence in Ozaukee County.
Coincidentally, though nonetheless ironic, the bike trail fund-raiser
has gotten under way at the same time We Energies is blazing a trail of
its own with backhoes, bulldozers and drilling equipment to lay a
high-pressure natural gas line through the heart of the county. The
pipeline is needed to fuel the new Port Washington power plant, but unlike
the bike trail, it has created fear and anger, particularly from residents
whose land has been used for the project.
The bike trail improvement offers We Energies a unique opportunity to
contribute to a project that
improves the quality of life for county residents rather than disrupts
it and boosts property values instead of diminishes them. What's more, a
utility that preaches conservation should be happy to contribute to a
trail on which only calories are burned.
The County Board has dropped the ball by not embracing the bike trail
improvement, but it's not too late for its members to help. The board
should vote to accept the $1 million grant and, barring a justified
contribution from the county coffers, offer financing assistance if
private donations can't be raised by the grant deadline.
Not that it should take potential donors like We Energies much time to
see the merit in a trail that, in addition to enhancing its own image in a
county it has relied on for more than 70 years, truly benefits Ozaukee