Construction Finally Begins on the Long-Awaited Bloomingdale Trail

MVVA_Milwaukee

Rendering of the Bloomingdale Trail at Milwaukee Avenue.

It was a moment that was more than a decade and a half in the making. Yesterday workers began construction on the Bloomingdale Trail, the elevated greenway and linear park that Northwest Side residents have been pushing for since the mid-Nineties.

“It’s really exciting to see this idea come to life,” said Beth White, who heads the local office of the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project for the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District. “This is the result of a lot of effort by a lot of people as we’ve been putting the pieces together. Everything from land acquisition to designing the access parks and creating the innovative and sustainable trail design has been a true collaboration. I think we’re building something that will be embraced by the communities that have been a part of this, and really driving it since day one.”

IMG_9352

A tractor on the trail. Photo: Trust for Public Land

CDOT will be overseeing Phase I of the project, the construction on the basic trail, which includes ripping out the remaining tracks on the dormant rail line and converting the railbed to a bike and pedestrian path, as well as rehabbing the retaining walls and viaducts. The basic 2.7-mile trail should be open to the public by fall of 2014.

“I’ve made a commitment to Mayor Emanuel that the trail will be ready for him to ride from one end to the other by next fall, maybe November,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan called for building the trail by 2015. “It’s a multiphase project, but the Bloomingdale is going to feel fairly complete by then, outside of the additional bells and whistles like playgrounds for the access parks, public art and additional landscaping that we’re currently fundraising for.”

The pricetag for Phase I is $53.7 million, covered mostly by federal grants, plus local funds from Cook County and the park district, and donations of $5 million from Exelon and $1 million each from Boeing and CNA. TPL is working to raise $40 – $50 million more in private donations to pay for building parks at the access points, plus the trail and access park enhancements, maintenance and programming.

IMG_9339

The railbed near Milwaukee and Leavitt. Photo: Trust for Public Land

Along with building the trail itself, Phase I includes cleaning and removing paint from the existing viaducts and retaining walls in order to make sure that the concrete is strong enough to safely withstand heavy trail use. Unfortunately, existing murals on the walls will be destroyed as part of this process. During the ground level work, Bloomingdale Avenue will generally be open to traffic, although parking will be prohibited on Bloomingdale while the project is underway.

A cul-de-sac at Ridgeway and Bloomingdale, next to the McCormick YMCA, has been closed to serve as a construction staging area. It will eventually become the western trailhead. “There aren’t many traffic issues outside of Bloomingdale Avenue, so our workers can basically buzz along,” Klein said. “That’s why we’re confident we can knock this out in 12 months.”

Although community members have long referred to the proposed greenway as the Bloomingdale Trail, earlier this year the project team renamed the entire system of the trail plus its multiple access parks as “The 606,” which they felt would be a better name for attracting corporate sponsorship, although the greenway itself will still keep its old name. “The 606″ refers to the first three digits of all Chicago zipcodes, and it eliminates possible confusion with Bloomingdale’s department store and the suburb of Bloomingdale. Weekly updates on the construction project will be posted on The 606 website.