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The Famed Des Plaines River Trail Improvements Project Is Moving Forward

Sections of the Des Plaines River Trail flood in the spring

Stretching 50 miles from the Lake County, Illinois – Wisconsin border to North Avenue in Cook County, the Des Plaines River Trail, or DPRT, is a vital artery for cyclists, joggers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. However, the Des Plaines River Trail has faced numerous challenges over recent years as increased flood risk has resulted in portions of the trail being unusable for 60% of the year. During heavy spring and summer storms the trail will often become inundated under five or more feet of floodwaters, mud, and debris.

In response, a group of local governments and activist organizations have banded together to form the Trail Action Group (TAG). Following a successful series of community events stretching from 2018-2020, a plan was drafted by the Trail Action Group and Christopher Burke Engineering (CBBEL) to revitalize, reroute, or rebuild the most neglected sections of the trail from Touhy Avenue to North Avenue.

The preferred alternative mostly maintains an existing alignment with the Des Plaines River from Touhy to Irving Park Road, then follows an eastern alternative from Irving Park Road to Belmont to avoid costly elevation of the trail over low lands and also to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. Working with Catholic Cemeteries of Chicago, a new alignment will hug the northern boundary of St Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, providing a multiuse path along Belmont where there currently is no sidewalk. The path will then follow the river along the west side of the cemetery before going over the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks on a new elevated bridge. After Grand Ave, the trail will once again follow a revitalized existing alignment to North Avenue. In addition, an extension from North Avenue to the Illinois Prairie Path and Salt Creek trails are possible dependent upon funding from legislators.   

Which sections are most likely to receive funding? Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (IDOT) grant applications for Phase II Engineering and Construction have been submitted for segments 1 and 2, as well as for Phase II engineering for Segment 4. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) is leading Phase II Engineering for Segment 3.  A Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program  (USDOT) grant application is currently being prepared for construction of Segments 3 and 4.  Segment 1 was submitted by Park Ridge, Segment 2 submitted by Rosemont, and Segment 4 submitted by Schiller Park, with an agreement that FPDCC will provide the 20% local match.  It is anticipated that more applications covering the southern sections will be prepared during the next cycle of grants as designs progress.

Local governments are also providing new DPRT connections for residents where possible. Such linkages include the Catherine Chevalier Woods Bridge in Rosemont, the Franklin Park multiuse path to DuPage County, the Melrose Park multi-use path along North Avenue, and street cycling sharrows in River Forest.

Together, residents and governments across the region are stepping up to advocate for reliable, safe, and fun trails. If you want to get involved or learn more, visit our website or Facebook at Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT).

Barrett Pedersen is Village President of Franklin Park, IL. Rudolph Isaac Repa is Village Planner at Franklin Park, IL.