If anyone doubted that the village of Riverside was a historic place or was unsure where it was, the Illinois Department of Transportation acted to clear all of that up earlier this month.

Anyone who has driven recently on the Stevenson Expressway near the Harlem Avenue exits has seen the brown highway signs pointing drivers to Toyota Park to the south of the exit and “Historic Riverside” to the north.

“Riverside through the years has made many overtures to various government agencies … seeking those brown way-finding signs to recognize us for what we are, a national historic landmark community,” said Village President Michael Gorman during a presentation about the new signs at the village board meeting on Oct. 15. “We’ve always been met with a simple answer – no.”

Such signs are generally reserved for tourist destinations and recreation areas that draw lots of people – places like Brookfield Zoo or state parks. You don’t see many of those brown signs touting the locations of scenic Lyons or leafy River Forest.

“Basically, they always put us in what I refer to as a Catch 22,” said Gorman. “We don’t qualify under federal highway and IDOT rules, because we’re too small. We don’t draw enough visitors. But you can’t get any more traffic unless you have a sign, so it put us in a no-win situation.”

So, Gorman gave a call to Martin Sandoval, the state senator for the 12th District. Sandoval isn’t Riverside’s state senator yet, but he will be when he’s inaugurated as the senator of the newly redrawn 11th District in January. He’s running unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.

He told village board members at their meeting on Oct. 15 that he’s already begun serving Riverside residents, “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Even though he’s not Riverside’s state senator yet, Sandoval has been surprisingly willing to aid Gorman with Riverside issues, including the Hofmann Dan removal/Swan Pond Park regrading effort. He’s also lent a hand in helping Gorman lobby IDOT to gain grant funding to repair the roof of the village’s downtown train station.

Sandoval can be a big help with those transportation-related issues; he’s the chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee.

“When I talked about the sign, and I explained to him why we can’t get the sign, his comment to me was, ‘Let’s change the rules,'” said Gorman. “The point is you have to speak up and you have to advocate for us.

“The sign is a direct result of his intervention on our behalf.”