By Bob Uphues
The village of Brookfield has filed an application seeking $175,000 through a Cook County grant program to study the feasibility of installing left turn-only lanes on 31st Street at Maple Avenue and building a bike/pedestrian path along 31st Street between Prairie Avenue and First Avenue.
Officials are seeking the funding through the Invest in Cook program, which is administered through the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways. Cook County earmarked $8.5 million early this year for the grant program to help pay some of the costs related to planning for regional and local transportation improvements.
Calling 31st Street "a transit desert," Brookfield officials in their application said the proposed improvements would address three issues: connecting visitors to Brookfield Zoo, providing a safe route for Brookfield residents to the zoo without having to drive a car and providing access to the Salt Creek Trail.
According to the application, thousands of Brookfield residents are members of Brookfield Zoo, but many are unable to walk or bike safely to the zoo. The lack of a safe route along 31st Street also may discourage residents without access to a vehicle from applying for jobs at the zoo.
"The almost 19,000 residents of Brookfield lack a safe way to access the zoo unless they are able to drive there," the application states.
The path between Prairie Avenue and First Avenue would connect not only with the Salt Creek Trail on the north side of 31st Street but to the new First Avenue trail that links Riverside-Brookfield High School and the village of North Riverside at 26th Street.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District played an instrumental role in funding the First Avenue trail, along with the villages of Riverside and North Riverside and Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208.
"These trails are great amenities that connect residents to nature and healthy activities," the application states. "The Cook County Forest Preserves has discussed this connectivity issue with the village and is eager to find a solution to the lack of access to [the] eastern section of the trail."
If the village is successful in obtaining the grant, it would only pay for a planning/feasibility study. It's unclear how the village or county might combine to fund engineering, design and construction. The application estimates construction taking place in 2021.
"It is a very competitive grant and there is no guarantee we will get it," said Emily Egan, Brookfield's village planner, in an email.
In its application, Brookfield included 15 letters of support from local officials and regional agencies, including Friends of the Forest Preserves and Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, whose support for the First Avenue bike path was critical; state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), Brookfield Zoo, the Active Transportation Alliance, Trails for Illinois, Pace bus company, the Central Council of Mayors and the village of LaGrange Park.
Municipalities and other government agencies whose projects are approved for grant funding will be notified of the awards in August.