Where the state of Illinois failed to deliver, Cook County is stepping in. On Wednesday, Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (D-16th) confirmed that the county has appropriated $750,000 in order to complete phase two of the First Avenue bike trail project in 2016.
The money will be used to build a bike path west along 31st Street from First Avenue to Golfview Avenue and then north on the west side of Golfview Avenue and then along First Avenue all the way to 26th Street in North Riverside.
According to Tobolski, the Cook County Forest Preserve District Board (which includes the same officials as the Cook County Board) approved the appropriation at their Feb. 9 meeting.
“I’m glad it got done,” said Tobolski, who indicated he sought the money for the path as a way to bring something to his district after voting in 2015 in favor of a 1-percent sales tax increase, which went into effect Jan. 1. “It’s a nice partnership between local governments and the county.”
When the first phase of the project was approved in 2014, state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th), the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, promised local officials he’d be able to find money in the state budget to complete the bike path project.
But when the General Assembly and new Gov. Bruce Rauner came to an impasse over the state budget — which still has not been resolved — funding was frozen.
After voting for the sales-tax increase last year, Tobolski said he approached Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle about setting aside money for a project that had been promised to constituents in his district.
“It was just not going to happen in Springfield,” Tobolski said. “She concurred.”
The money will come from motor fuel tax revenues via the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, Tobolski said.
Riverside and North Riverside will again share some of the costs for the project. While it’s not certain exactly how it will play out, a short portion of the phase two project — the east-west connection to Golfview Road along 31st Street — is in Riverside.
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said that the two villages will combine to pay the design and construction engineering costs, which he estimated at about $100,000.
The village of North Riverside’s engineering firm, Frank Novotny and Associates, will do the engineering work. The firm also did the engineering for phase one of the project in 2014, which resulted in a bike path being built along the west side of First Avenue between Ridgewood Road and 31st Street.
“Tobolski and Preckwinkle did something the state couldn’t do,” said Hermanek. “I couldn’t be prouder of the commissioner and president and what they did for us. What a great thing that is for the village.”
The bike path will allow high school students from North Riverside a safe, paved path to Riverside-Brookfield High School, something local officials have requested for decades.
Riverside President Ben Sells said he looked forward to the village participating in the phase two planning.
“Riverside looks forward to cooperating with the project and getting it done by the end of the year,” Sells said.
There’s no timetable for construction yet, but officials hoped that it might be completed by the beginning of the 2016-17 school year in late summer. However, it may take a bit longer to complete the work.
While the 31st Street section of the project will be straightforward, constructing the path north of the Golfview cutoff along First Avenue may be a little trickier.
Douglas Chien, advocates’ network manager for Friends of the Forest Preserves, an agency that helped local residents who pushed for the path to connect with Tobolski, said the area just south of 26th Street is very wet, which could make construction of a path difficult.
Unclogging a blocked culvert in the area may help that problem, but “the area tends to be low and wet,” Chien said.
But Chien seemed confident a solution would be worked out.
“I’m really happy to see the Forest Preserve District and Cook County reopen involvement in the project, both for public access and student safety,” Chien said.