The proposed path along Van Buren Street | Drawing from Christopher B. Burke Engineering

Forest Park’s village council voted unanimously Sept. 12 to award the engineering and construction contracts for the long-discussed Van Buren Multi-Use Path.

The biking and walking path will be built on the west side of the section of Van Buren Street between Madison Street and the spot near the start of the Illinois Prairie Path bike and walking trail, directly north of the CTA train yard. It would mostly parallel the historic Altenheim retirement community property. The new path would provide a connection between the Illinois Prairie Path and the proposed south extension of the Des Plaines River Trail, which would run along Thatcher Avenue in River Forest and along Madison Street in Forest Park. 

The final project costs ended up being $34,803 higher than originally estimated, which was largely due to inflation and the higher-than-expected soil removal costs. The project is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

According to the bid documents included in the village council meeting packet, the path will be 10-feet wide to allow bicyclists and walkers to travel in both directions without worrying about passing cars. The project also includes directional signs for the Illinois Prairie Path. 

The village originally estimated the project would cost $540,000, with $464,952 of it covering the construction costs and the rest going to engineering. Only two companies bid on the project, with Palos Heights-based MYS Inc submitting the lowest bid of $509,343. 

According to the memo by Christopher Burke Engineering, the village’s engineering contractor, Forest Park has worked with MYS Inc before, and it had no issues with the work. 

Some $247,500 of the project costs will be covered through Cook County’s annual Invest in Cook County grant. Forest Park will cover the rest through its Village Improvement Program fund.

The Forest Park el station is a major transit hub, where riders can transfer to multiple Pace bus routes serving the surrounding suburbs. The buses come equipped with bike racks, and riders can bring bikes on board the el trains during off-peak hours.

The 61-mile-long Illinois Prairie Path largely follows the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad interurban train line right of way. The trail goes to Wheaton, where it splits off into two branches, one going to Elgin and one going to Aurora. 

The 55-mile-long Des Plaines River Trail runs along or near the eponymous river, stopping just short of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. But the trail currently doesn’t go further south than North Avenue in River Forest. Current plans call for the extension to use the street. 

Resident Ralph DiFebo, who previously lobbied for the village-owned portion of the Altenheim retirement community property to be developed as a more useable open space, has told the Review that, while he supported the multi-use path, he wondered about the wisdom of building it before the village finalizes what it wants to do with the overall property.

“Let’s say, out of the blue, something comes in here and they want angle parking, guest parking [for residential units],” he said. “[The village is] going to spend money on a bike path that’s going to be torn up or moved. I’m just saying — until they make a decision on the property, it’s a bit too early to build a bike path.”