By Mike Danahey email@example.com June 20, 2012 4:36PM
Updated: June 21, 2012 2:32AM
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ELGIN — Jim Dillard is an avid bicyclist who pedals more than 5,000 miles a year, including his usual ride to and from his West Chicago home and the business he owns, HPI Molding on Grace Street in Elgin, not far from the Fox River Trail.
So Dillard was glad to hear Wednesday that long-in-the-works repairs to a washed-out section of the bicycle/pedestrian path likely will get under way this construction season and should be finished by the end of the year if the weather allows, or next spring at the very latest.
“We’re anxious to get this done, just like everyone else,” said Monica Meyers, executive director of the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, which is in charge of the trail.
This photogenic portion of the trail in question is not far from a fork in the asphalt where one prong (the northern branch of the separate Illinois Prairie Path) heads east toward Wheaton, and the Fox River Trail section in disrepair leads south to downtown South Elgin and points beyond.
The damaged portion is at a small bridge underneath an overpass for railroad tracks that see freight train traffic a couple times a day. It is very close to Poplar Creek, not far from where that stream meets the Fox River.
And it has been washed out since 2008.
“There are cables and signs to warn you that the trail is closed, but the well-worn paths around the cables and signs bear testament to the fact that they are keeping no one out,” Dillard said. “There is an alternate route available through surface streets (in South Elgin), but no one has bothered to consider and post it as a detour.”
Planned since 2009
The list of current capital projects found online at forestpreserve.countyofkane.org shows that the repair has been on a schedule since September 2009. So far, Western Surveying & Engineering of Geneva has been paid $38,895 out of a total of $358,000 budgeted for the work.
Meyers said Wednesday the forest district has been working with Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Union Pacific Railroad (which owns the land which once held rails), the Kane/DuPage Soil & Water Conservation District and the Army Corps of Engineers as well as Elgin, South Elgin, and the Fox River Water Reclamation District, which has a treatment plant not far from this part of the path.
“It’s a complex project to begin with, and we’ve dealt with more people than I’ve seen before in terms of the number of permits required,” Meyers said.
What adds to the engineering complexity is that being so close to Poplar Creek makes the site prone to erosion. The vibration from trains passing overhead also impacts its structural integrity.
On top of that, Meyers said, the original plans for the bridge could not be found, meaning new ones had to be drawn up to Army Corps specifications.
Dillard said the path originally held a trolley line and that work on converting it into a trail took part in the 1980s, if not earlier.
In February, the Kane/DuPage Soil Conservation District granted permission for the project to proceed. Since then, IDNR permission has been granted, too, Meyers said, and the final approval piece needed is expected to come soon.
“The bid is ready to go,” Meyers said.
With its fiscal year ending June 30, Meyers said those interested should be able to find the full project’s update online in early July.
The Raymond Street project is one of three trail-related bridges on the capital projects list for this year. The other two are a $50,000 replacement of a bridge just south of Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve on Elgin’s north side and a $46,000 bridge replacement in the East Dundee area.
Meyers said those simpler efforts should be done by sometime this fall. She also noted that the district is in the midst of annual trail repaving and maintenance, with four miles and $250,000 of work under way.
Other bike issues
As for Dillard, while he’s glad to hear of the imminent bridge rehab, he sees other issues for improving biking in the area, particularly in Elgin.
“There are no bike shops in the entire town,” he said. “Other towns have some sort of amenities as far as comfort stops and the ability to get something to eat without losing sight of the trail. There’s nothing like that in Elgin. The trail is poorly marked going through town, and it’s easy for casual users to get completely lost.”
Elgin’s bike ambassador, Tom Armstrong, said that at its June meeting, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee discussed putting up more signs in downtown Elgin. Of particular concern is directing people around an especially circuitous part of the trail from near Gail Borden Public Library, prior to where the trail crosses Kimball Street, to where the trail starts up again behind Hemmens Cultural Center.
As for a detour around the washed-out bridge, Armstrong said, “That would be south on Raymond Street to Riverview Avenue, then west on Riverview, across railroad tracks, then back to the trail.”