It was almost six and one-half years ago when the announcement was made.
The United States had 45 new All-American Roads and National Scenic Byways, and one of them ran through Bureau County.
The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau worked with area government officials for several months to complete an application for National Scenic Byway designation for the Illinois River Road Byway. The byway runs on both sides of the Illinois River from Ottawa to Havana.
The Illinois River Road - Route of the Voyageurs enters Bureau County on Route 6, just north of St. Bede Academy. It runs through Spring Valley and switched onto Route 29, moving through the communities of DePue and Bureau. In addition, Princeton made a financial investment to be designated as a gateway community, with a spur that connected at Interstate 180 to the Illinois River Road route.
Numerous meetings were held during the years that followed, looking for ways to use the byway to promote tourism, economic development and transportation throughout the area. Since 1995, Illinois has received $15,665,667 in National Scenic Byways Program grants for 120 projects.
Now the very existence of the byway is in danger.
On Feb. 1, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica released his proposed five-year Surface Transportation Legislation. The legislation calls for the National Scenic Byways Program to be completely abolished.
But those who support the byways are not going to accept the legislation without a fight.
Terry Madsen, chairman of the Governance Committee and a member of the Executive Committee of the Illinois River Road, said the proposal seems to not only eliminate possible funding for byways but also eliminates all recognition of the programs and even the designation authority itself.
"If that is true, this move goes well beyond budget trimming and wipes out the work of countless folks across the country who have been trying to build the assets of this system locally in order to better aid their own job market and economy," he said. "It strikes me as taking a bulldozer to a job calling, at most, for a lawn mower."
Madsen said a lot of people have put a lot of work into developing the National Byway System into a true network of local resources.
"This proposal has the potential to destroy all of that even though it is not necessary to meet the short term budget goals facing the federal government," he said.
Also protesting the legislation is Debb Ladgenski, Spring Valley's economic development cirector and a board member for the byway’s commission.
"This would be devastating to the byway," she said, adding the byway is an integral part of the tourism transportation network.
"We're just getting started with the business development portion of our plans which would directly benefit the economic development of the businesses and communities within the byway — Princeton, Spring Valley and DePue in Bureau County," she said. "In addition, we had also planned on expanding to include the archaeological and historical highlights of the corridor. We urge everyone to contact their congressmen and Transportation Committee members."
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Want to make your voice heard?
If you would like to comment on the proposed legislation, contact your representative or one of the four Illinois Congressional leaders who sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-IL 15th District, Rep. Jerry Costello, D-IL 12th District, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-IL 14th District, or Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-IL 3rd District.