The Iowa Department of Transportation is taking what it calls a more pro-active approach to helping turn abandoned rail lines into biking and hiking trails. The D-O-T’s Stuart Anderson says they’re working to get match money to cities and counties quicker to get them on the way to acquiring the abandoned rail beds. Anderson says the most recent award of 300-thousand dollars for two sections of rail line is an example. He says they’re the Belmond to Thornton line from Wright, Franklin and Cerro Gordo counties that runs just over 12 miles. The other is the Sheffield to Chapin line that runs about six miles in Franklin County. Anderson says the D-O-T money is 70-percent of what’s needed to buy the lines, and the cities will have to pay the rest. He says these two corridors are independent and don’t connect to other trails. He says they governments will be looking at connecting up to cities. Anderson says the rails-to-trails program has been successful.The authority to convert the rail lines started in the 1980s, and since that time, 515 miles of abandoned rail line have been turned into trails. He says it’s taking a bad situation for one form of travel, and turning it into a good situation for another. He says they hate to see the rail lines abandoned, but he says they like to see them turned into trails. He says in the event that rail demand increases again, the trails can be turned back into rail corridors. Anderson says the D-O-T decided to act quicker in the abandonments, as the number of miles available has shrunk.He says there as a big increase in abandonments in the 80s, but that has slowed down to mostly local short lines. Anderson says they hope to complete the process of securing the rail lines in the next three to six months, and then the design for the trails can begin.
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