A pedestrian/bike path providing a safe route for North Riverside students traveling between 26th Street and Ridgewood Road to Riverside-Brookfield High School may be closer to becoming a reality.

The idea isn’t new. It’s been talked about in one fashion or another since at least 1968 but hasn’t gained much traction. The reason for all the attention now? The plan has a champion in the form of Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (D-16th).

In recent months, Tobolski has gathered representatives from every agency needed to cooperate if such a path is finally to be built, and he appears to be serious in keeping the momentum moving forward.

“Within a couple of years, I think we’ll get this project done,” said Tobolski.

On March 20, an ad hoc committee of officials drawn from North Riverside, Riverside, Brookfield, the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Riverside-Brookfield High School met for the third time since the beginning of the year.

Among those attending the meeting were the presidents of each village, Hubert Hermanek Jr., of North Riverside; Ben Sells, of Riverside; and Kit Ketchmark, of Brookfield.

According to Tobolski, officials are now pursuing a two-phase plan that would result in a north-south trail connecting 26th Street with Ridgewood Road and an east-west trail connecting First and Prairie avenues.

Constructing those trails would link them to the Salt Creek Trail system, which winds through Brookfield, North Riverside, Broadview, Westchester, LaGrange Park, LaGrange and Western Springs.

A short portion of the 8-foot-wide trail will be constructed from Parkway Road to a point just north of Riverside-Brookfield High School as part of a project to improve the intersection at First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood.

Eventually the trail could continue south from Parkway Road to Ogden Avenue, where it could connect with a path that runs east along Ogden. The Forest Preserve District last year purchased additional land east of their forest preserve meadow at First and Ogden to extend the existing path to the east.

Lining up cooperation among all of the local agencies is critical, said Tobolski, in order get the ear of state legislators, like Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th), chairman of the state transportation committee. Coincidentally, Sandoval’s district includes a portion of Riverside.

“It’s easier if you can go as five mayors, if you say, ‘This will benefit all of our constituents,'” said Tobolski, who is also the mayor of the village of McCook. “I feel good about this project.”

On March 26, Tobolski and the village presidents visited Springfield to lobby Sandoval for support. According to Sells, the project has verbal support.

“Everybody thinks it’s a good idea,” said Sells. “The issue is getting it funded.”

Hermanek said getting support from state legislators was critical.

“We’re at the point where we need to bring in Senator Sandoval because he’s in charge of appropriating the money,” said Hermanek. “This is the farthest it’s ever gone. All the parties that need to be involved are involved.”

A preliminary version of the path plan shows that Phase I — the section connecting Ridgewood Road with 26th Street — would head north from Ridgewood along the west side of First Avenue to 31st Street.

At 31st Street, the path would head west to Golfview Avenue and then continue north along the west side of Golfview until it connects again with First Avenue and heads to 26th Street.

There are no firm cost estimates for the project, but it could cost $700,000 or more, based on preliminary calculations.

“There’s been no discussion of what each municipality would have to pick up,” said Ketchmark. “Everyone’s together, talking, and that’s a good step. But we’re certainly a ways away from talking about details.”

Sells said that Riverside has, on its own, set up an April 11 meeting with forest preserve and IDOT officials to help draw those two agencies closer together and perhaps lobby the two agencies to include building the path from Ridgewood Road all the way to 31st Street as part of this summer’s road work in the area.

According to Sells, both IDOT and the forest preserve district support the plan, and each thought the other agency would be difficult to convince.

“I think there’s more cooperation here than people are realizing,” Sells said. “We’re all in agreement, we know the route, and we know what needs to be done.”

Tobolski said he plans to bring all the parties together monthly in order to keep the project on the radar.

“In my experience, you have to keep meeting, keep the project moving, even if it’s just inches,” Tobolski said. “Even if we get them to say yes, that could be one to two years [before work begins]. But we’ve got to start.”

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