LINCOLN PARK — Chicago-based developer Sterling Bay's plan to extend The 606's Bloomingdale Trail eastward — under the Kennedy Expressway, over the Chicago River and through the Finkl Steel site — has many residents excited.
But is the plan feasible?
One civil engineer, who worked as a project manager on a similar project, said the plan will be complicated to execute and could take at least eight years.
"With the existing trail, the infrastructure was there. Here, you're building all new infrastructure," said Greg Osborne, director of civil engineering at Chicago-based architectural and engineering firm Epstein and longtime East Village resident.
Mina Bloom talks about the obstacles to extending the '606.'
Osborne led an engineering team on the Addison Underbridge Connector project, an off-street bike path designed to soar over the Chicago River and connect a string of parks along the water from Belmont to Montrose. It's slated to be finished by 2017.
Like that Roscoe Village path, extending The 606 requires working with a mix of many city and state agencies like the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Chicago Department of Transportation and so on, Osborne said.
"There's a lot of fixed pieces. The railroad tracks and the river aren't going anywhere. They're fixed constraints that have to be dealt with," he said, adding that one of the biggest challenges will be making sure the trail "makes all of the clearances," meaning it meets each agency's height and width guidelines.
If the extension is funded using a mix of public and private money, Osborne said he envisions the project taking at least eight years because of the agencies at play and the federal aid process. But if Sterling Bay were to foot the bill, he said that time could be cut in half.
A representative for Sterling Bay did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The idea to extend the trail has been suggested for years. In May, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), a strong advocate for updating the North Branch Industrial Corridor, revealed a rendering of the extension.
The rendering by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill shows the trail, which ends at Ashland Avenue, continuing east, under the Kennedy Expressway and over the North Branch of the Chicago River, using an unused railroad swing bridge. The nonworking steel swing bridge was built in the late 1890s, originally as a wooden structure. It is owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
Transportation advocates agree that extending the trail is a natural choice, especially given the success of the existing trail and accompanying park system.
"At The Trust for Public Land, we believe every Chicagoan deserves to live within a 10-minute walk of a park, so we're encouraged by the energy behind this idea," said Jamie Simone, interim Chicago region director for The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservancy group that the city tapped to manage and oversee The 606.
Jim Merrell, spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, said his team is "very excited" by the proposal.
"We look forward to supporting its implementation however we can," he added.
Yasmeen Schuller, executive director for online cyclist resource The Chainlink, said she "loves" the idea of extending the trail.
"Looking at Madison, Wisconsin's well-established, separate infrastructure of bike trails, extending The 606 and building more bike paths and trails could really help casual riders become more confident and use their bikes more frequently," Schuller said in an email. "There's a comfort in knowing you can ride for miles without having to worry about interacting with cars."
It's unclear how much the extension will cost, and where the money will come from.
A spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation didn't respond to a request for comment, and neither did a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District.
Merell said if the existing trail is any indication, the extension will likely be funded using a mix of private and public dollars.
Osborne said he expects the extension to cost much less than the existing $95 million trail and park system simply because it's a shorter trail to build.
Hopkins previously told DNAinfo Chicago the extension could add $20 million yearly in revenue taxes to the city, far more than the approximately $400,000 that the site pays now. "You can see the huge gap in what it will be paying [in taxes] when it is fully developed," he said.
Though it's unclear if the extension will be wider, or what it will look like beyond the rendering, one thing is for certain: It's likely not all of the extension will be elevated, according to Hopkins.
"For now, the right-of-way for where it goes after [the trail] crosses the river, is unsure. There are some railroad lines that might be an option or a combination of bikeways on streets to get Downtown. The cost to build elevated vs. at-grade is typically double. It's not a luxury we can afford," Hopkins previously said.
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