When the Brookfield Village Board earlier this year put the brakes on funding Phase I engineering for a plan to construct a bike path that would connect Prairie Avenue to a regional trail network along 31st Street, we were, frankly, disappointed.
Cook County OK’d a $150,000 grant to help fund the work, which left the village $90,000 short. The village board, feeling that Brookfield shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden alone for what was a regional trail network, hit pause.
We weren’t optimistic.
But there was more work being done in the background than we realized, and this summer the village of Riverside announced it was going to serve as the lead agency for extending the First Avenue trail all the way to Ogden and then east to Cermak Woods, linking the Ottawa Woods Trail with the Salt Creek Trail.
At the time, Brookfield wasn’t officially part of the mix and that specific plan would have bypassed 31st Street. But with the Central Conference of Mayors willing to earmark around $400,000 to funding the Phase I engineering for the trail extension, it would have been short-sighted to exclude 31st Street from the plan.
With the prospect of additional partners to share the cost burden, Brookfield eagerly signed up to replace Riverside as the lead agency to move the ball ahead on this plan. While the current funding does not cover construction, the engineering is the critical step in making that funding possible in the future.
With the Cook County Forest Preserve District as well as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) identifying these types of projects as important, our guess is that funding for construction may be coming sooner rather than later — maybe two or three years, but not 10 years.
The plan also identifies Washington Avenue east of Prairie Avenue as another connector route, probably via bike lanes on the street. And if there could be some way to connect 31st Street with Washington Avenue through the woods on the western edge of Brookfield Zoo, that would close the circuit.
The engineering study will show planners just how easy or difficult it’s going to be to get these connectors built, but at least this project isn’t dead in the water, as it appeared to be this spring.
We’re willing to wait another couple years if this project finally becomes reality. Hey, it took about 50 years to get a path built along First Avenue from 26th Street to Riverside-Brookfield High School after it was first proposed to Cook County by the late James Marousek, a North Riverside resident, in 1968.
Marousek helped cut the ribbon for the 26th Street to 31st Street segment when it was completed, finally, in 2017. He was 96 years old.
Progress does not always move swiftly, but when there are willing partners, it does move. This is going to get done.