JOLIET – By the end of 2018, pedestrians and cyclists near the Joliet-Shorewood border along Black Road won’t have to dodge traffic to get across Interstate 55 and the DuPage River.
They’ll be able to cross both barriers – one natural and one man-made – via a bridge over each that will connect the DuPage River Trail in Hammel Woods to the Rock Run Greenway Trail in the Rock Run Preserve.
“The reason this Black Road project is critical is it’s our one opportunity to bring people across both the river and the interstate,” Forest Preserve District of Will County Chief Operations Officer Ralph Schultz said. “It’s the closest point of those two properties where the forest preserve has already established trails on each side.”
The district will pay about $570,000 in capital funds for the project, and about $2.2 million in grants were awarded by the state via federal pass-through dollars.
The bridges will connect the
DuPage River Trail, which begins in DuPage County, to several other well-established trails that pass through the Joliet area. The Rock Run Greenway Trail links up with the I & M Canal Trail, Old Plank Trail and Wauponsee Glacial Trail, to name a few.
The project will be great for local safety, officials said, particularly for kids who want to see their friends on the other side of the highway.
The bridges will connect people via bike or foot to stores, restaurants and neighborhoods on either side of the existing separation, and to attractions such as the Joliet Public Library’s Black Road Branch.
“There’s a lot of folks in this area of Shorewood and Joliet that want to move back and forth. Right now, they kind of take their life into their own hands and walk out on the street and along the shoulder to cross I-55 and the river,” Schultz said.
The connection was first in the district’s plans in 1999, when it started building the Rock Run Trail system and before the DuPage River Trail had started. The district was unsuccessful in applying for grants because there was nothing to connect to. It was turned down again in 2005.
In 2014, it tried a third time and the state agreed to fund the project through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, but it was split in two pieces due to cost. In 2015, funding was in place for engineering and construction.
The district reached an agreement with the village of Shorewood and city of Joliet to use right of way for the trail. Joliet controls what’s east of the frontage road between the river and highway. The river bridge will be in Shorewood and the highway bridge will be in Joliet.
Rather than count bicycle or pedestrian traffic in the area, the state looked at the average number of vehicle trips passing through the corridor. It used a formula to predict the number of pedestrians or cyclists nearby. Funds are awarded through two programs – transportation enhancement and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality.
“CMAQ is really looking at trying to pull people out of cars and put them on bicycles or on their two feet,” Schultz said.
The bidding process will start this fall and construction will begin in March 2018.
The process of connecting trails throughout the county is ongoing. The forest preserve district created the Will County Bikeway Plan to use as a guide for municipalities and developers to collaborate and add trails as part of new developments.
The district’s newest idea will require working with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The district is looking to partner in some fashion on the 135 acres of open land the state owns that are adjacent to the Joliet Correctional Center. The prison has been closed since 2002.
The district is working with the Collins Street Task Force, composed of state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, and others, but isn’t expecting action anytime soon.
“It’s a substantial amount of acreage in the middle of a developed area,” said Andrew Hawkins, the forest preserve district’s director of planning and development.
The plot of land sits in an area that is underserved for recreation and is surrounded by housing and industrial property, Hawkins and Schultz noted. It could potentially include bike paths that connect more trails in the Joliet area.