By Bob Uphues
The village of Riverside learned earlier this month that it has been awarded a $50,000 grant through the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways' Invest in Cook program, which provides funding for transit and alternative transportation infrastructure projects.
This year, the county awarded grants to help fund 30 such projects, with Riverside's falling into the "alternative transportation" category. The money will go toward reconstructing the 2,078-foot-long bike/walking path that winds along the Des Plaines River in Swan Pond Park.
The existing asphalt path, which is too narrow and has suffered damage from repeated flooding, was built in 2012 as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to remove two dams on the river and regrade the park to improve drainage there.
The Riverside Village Board is on the cusp of approving its 2021 operating budget, and included in that document is a $475,000 line item to reconstruct the path. The new path would be widened to 10 feet and be constructed out of exposed aggregate concrete, making it ADA compliant, more durable and accessible for a wider range of uses.
The new path is also seen a possible connector to the 55-mile long Des Plaines River Trail, which is still in the final design stage.
However, it's unclear whether the Swan Pond Park path will be able to be constructed in 2021. One of the principal holdups is the fate of $350,000 awarded to the village of Riverside by the Illinois general Assembly in 2019 as part of its Capital Bill.
That money was awarded specifically for the construction of a permeable pavement path along the river. Village officials determined such a path would be not only too expensive but impractical. Since Swan Pond Park is in a flood plain and is not connected to the village's sewer system, a permeable path isn't seen as necessary.
The village has, through state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), inquired whether the $350,000 state grant can be repurposed for a non-permeable path. Last week, Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances said she has not yet received an answer on that question and did not know when she might get one.
If Riverside gets the OK later this year, there's still time to begin design engineering in 2021, but that still leaves open the question of whether the state will release the funds in time for construction next year.
The job wouldn't be particularly complicated, said Public Works Director Edward Bailey, who called it "a remove-and-replace job" and likened it to laying a long stretch of sidewalk.