Federal funding helps Southland bike trails get rolling
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 7:00PM
A biker in Blue Island pedals along what will be the Cal-Sag Trail. | File photo
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:02AM
Millions of transportation dollars are headed to the south and southwest suburbs, paving the way for more bike trails, and causing Steve Buchtel, executive director of Trails for Illinois, to “dance” around his office.
“This is big time,” Buchtel said of the $3.6 million recently approved to construct the western half of the Cal-Sag Trail, from Alsip west to Lemont.
The Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) also will finance $1.1 million to complete the Thorn Creek Bike Trail in Chicago Heights and the Sand Ridge bike trail in Calumet City.
Additionally, the city of Oak Forest will receive $804,000 for a streetscape project at 159th Street and Cicero Avenue, and Park Forest will get $416,000 for U.S. 30 fence improvements.
All are on the list of 54 transportation projects statewide that will get more than $50 million in funding from ITEP, a competitive federal program that encourages transportation-related enhancement projects such as bike trails, walking paths, historic preservation efforts and streetscape beautification projects, according to state Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).
Local matching funds are required, and work must begin on the projects within three years.
The nearly 30-mile Cal–Sag Trail will be the primary east-west multipurpose trail in the Southland, linking the Centennial and Illinois & Michigan Canal trails in the west to the Burnham Greenway and Chicago lakefront trails in the east.
The Cal-Sag Trail was funded in two segments: $1.78 million to construct the trail from Route 83 to 104th Avenue, and $1.82 million from 104th to 86th Avenue.
The western half now has the funding needed to complete that portion of the trail. Buchtel said the project will be bid in June and should be completed by November.
“This is the fastest that a trail of this scope and size has been completed,” he said. “People are already asking if they will be able to ride it as it gets built. They are eager. They really want it done.”
It also means that the Friends of the Cal-Sag are 50 percent closer to getting the eastern half of the trail done from Alsip to Burnham, Buchtel said, an effort that will be pursued “more aggressively.”
The Thorn Creek Bicycle Trail completion project will connect three separate portions of the existing Thorn Creek Trail System, and link the Thorn Creek Trail with the Old Plank Road Trail and the Burnham Greenway Trail. The project will add 4.75 miles of new trail in Thornton, Lansing, Glenwood, Chicago Heights and Park Forest to the existing 12.7-mile system, according to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
“It’s a mess to get to the Old Plank Road from Lansing. Now it will be a slam dunk,” Buchtel said, adding that this will provide a key link in the Grand Illinois Trail, which will be a “big tourism draw.”
Oak Forest plans to upgrade the lighting, sidewalks and landscaping along the 159th and Cicero corridor, but not until after the Illinois Department of Transportation installs a new drainage culvert and widens the intersection, Mayor Hank Kuspa said.
This key intersection is in “dire need” of improved drainage, he said. IDOT’s work will be done within the next year, and then the city will move forward with its plans. The $804,300 grant will be used to improve Cicero Avenue, from the viaduct to 159th Street, and 159th Street from Cicero west to Laramie, the mayor said.
“This will really improve the whole area,” he said. A new train station at that intersection is in the works, and city officials hope for more economic development.
“This grant will be a huge help,” Kuspa said.
Park Forest will use its money to replace a deteriorating fence between Farragut and Springfield, where residents back up to U.S. 30, village manager Tom Mick said. The fence will improve aesthetics, sound and safety.
Also this year, the Cook County Forest Preserve District plans to install a 4.5-mile perimeter loop trail at Orland Grassland, which will provide a buffer from the valuable natural areas and showcase the restoration work that has taken place there over the past decade.
It also will construct a new loop trail through the Oak Forest Heritage Preserve that will follow the rolling hills and highlight the historically and ecologically significant areas.
The forest district also is set to begin a trail master planning process in 2013 to identify new trailhead locations, determine sites for bike rental and other concessions, and enhance trail signage. That project is supported with technical assistance from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
“An attractive, safe and well-maintained trail system is at the heart of the forest preserve district’s mission,” forest district General Supt. Arnold Randall said in a news release. “By expanding and improving our trails, we can offer a better experience to our current users and attract new audiences from around the county.”