By Bob Uphues
A bike path along First Avenue from Riverside-Brookfield High School to 26th Street in North Riverside appears to be well on its way to becoming a reality.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle is in favor of trying to find $100,000 in the Cook County or Forest Preserve District budget to contribute toward the path on First Avenue from Ridgewood Road to 31st Street in Riverside, a spokeswoman for the president confirmed last week.
And state Sen. Martin Sandoval (11th) reportedly has pledged another $600,000 to complete the path, from 31st Street west to Golfview Road and then north up Golfview to First Avenue, all the way to 26th Street.
Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (16th), whose district includes Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside, has led the combined effort to build the path, which would provide a safe route to the high school for students walking or biking from North Riverside.
Tobolski, along with officials from Riverside, North Riverside, Brookfield and the high school, met two weeks ago to pitch the plan to Sandoval, who is chairman of the state senate transportation committee.
"It's a lot of promises at this point, but this is the farthest we've moved on this thing," said Tobolski.
According to Karen Vaughan, press secretary for county government, Preckwinkle is "looking to move forward to identify the [source of] funding" for the county's contribution toward the bike path. The funding would need to be approved by the county board.
"The intention is to seek a vote on an intergovernmental agreement" to provide the funding, Vaughan said.
It's unclear whether the matter will be before Cook County commissioners at their next meeting on July 23. If not, the soonest it could appear on an agenda is Sept. 10.
"I'd hope to get it on the July agenda," Tobolski said. "We certainly don't want [the county] to be the reason why the project is delayed."
The $100,000 contribution from the county represents roughly half of what it is expected to cost to build a path from Ridgewood Road to 31st Street. Riverside, North Riverside and Riverside-Brookfield High School have all pledged to chip in equal amounts for the other half of the funding for the first phase of construction.
Riverside's village board is expected to approve an intergovernmental agreement to use motor fuel tax funds for its share on July 21. North Riverside's village board on June 23 voted to approve using $25,000 in motor fuel taxes to have its engineering firm begin designing the path.
"It's unbelievable," said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. "Senator Sandoval said he's very excited about the idea and thought it was great for the kids of North Riverside. It looks like it's going to come to fruition sooner than anyone ever thought."
Riverside-Brookfield High School Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said the high school's share is a line item in the 2014-15 budget, which will be approved by the school board later this summer.
If all of the funding falls in place, the plan is to complete the first leg of the path — on the west side of First Avenue from Ridgewood Road to 31st Street — in 2014. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), said Tobolski, has indicated it will grant a construction permit for the work and that Brookfield Zoo supports granting an easement for the path.
Sandoval indicated that there may be funding available in IDOT's 2015 budget for the remaining two legs of the path. If not, Tobolski said Sandoval could appropriate the money for the project.
If that funding comes through, the remainder of the path could be constructed during 2015.
Riverside Village President Ben Sells credited Tobolski with getting the project so far, so quickly.
"Tobolski has been absolutely instrumental," Sells said. "Without him there would be no [county] money; the same thing with Sandoval. His presentation to Sandoval was masterful."
The other key, Sells said, was showing state and county officials that the villages and high school were serious enough about the plan to put money toward it themselves.
"What really got [their] attention was that a group of local governments came together to fund the first part of the path," Sells said. "It's very encouraging."