While still a long shot, a pedestrian/bicycle bridge spanning First Avenue at Forest Avenue got a bit of official love last week when the Riverside village board authorized moving forward with two grant applications for engineering studies.

But village trustees were reluctant to say they’d accept the grants, should they be awarded, unless other government agencies and the Brookfield Zoo signed on as paying partners.

“If I’m on the hook, I want everybody else to be on the hook – Brookfield, the Forest Preserve District, the zoo, District 96 and District 208,” said Riverside Village President Michael Gorman. “I want letters of support from them. … Because if we walk away from this in a year, two years or whatever, we’re going to walk away from it because … everybody else is going to back out, too.”

At issue, at least initially, would be the $40,000 needed to match a $160,000 grant commitment resulting from the village receiving a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant for a preliminary engineering study. That $40,000 match would hit the village’s books over a period of time beginning no earlier than late 2012, so there’s still time to convince other agencies to sign on to support the project.

The First Avenue bridge idea is being championed by a group of local residents, headed by Riverside residents Randy Brockway and Rob Dixon and Brookfield resident Michelle Ryan, a planning consultant.

Since January, the three have formed a steering committee and are lobbying local school district and the Brookfield Zoo to support the project.

The group has also enlisted the help of engineer John Mick II, who works for the Chicago-based firm Baxter and Woodman. Mick is working as a volunteer for now, helping the steering committee navigate the grant process. His hope is that Baxter and Woodman can eventually work on the project, whose final price tag is estimated at about $3 million.

Applications for the CMAQ grants are due by April 1. According to Mick, winners of the grants will be notified in the fall of 2011, and work on the preliminary engineering study would not begin until, at the earliest, Oct. 1, 2012. In any case, should this move ahead it could take years before construction starts.

Whenever he works with municipalities or organizations on such projects, Mick tells them the process will involve “multiple millions, multiple years, multiple funding sources and multiple agencies.”

The first application seeks grant funding for a preliminary study to look at whether an overpass/underpass structure is clearly warranted at the intersection and what other kind of intersection improvements might be made at that location. Completing that study will take between one and two years to complete, said Mick.

Depending on the results of that study, the village and its governmental partner agencies could decide to move forward with designing intersection improvements or an overpass/underpass structure or some combination of the two. That process would take at least another year, possibly longer, said Mick. Construction itself would take between one and two years, he added.

Depending on the work done at the location, the final cost for improvements could be anywhere between $2.3 and $4 million, according to estimates included in the village’s grant applications. The cost to the village and its partner agencies is estimated to be between $500,000 and $1 million. That amount would be paid over a period of years.

Trustees voted 4 to 1 to approve submitting the applications for the CMAQ grants. The lone dissent came from Trustee Ben Sells, who said the village simply can’t afford it. He also felt the subject needed more discussion generally in the community before moving forward with the applications.

“For us to be given this tonight and be told it’s due April 1st, with the potential of over a $1 million liability, I can’t do that,” Sells said. “It seems like it hasn’t been vetted properly enough with the community at large.

“And even if we built it, whose bridge is this?” Sells asked. “Who’s going to take care of it?”

But other trustees disagreed, saying that the village was simply applying for the grant, not committing to any expenditure.

“We’re not on the hook for anything,” said Trustee Jean Sussman. “At this point, we’re not risking anything.”