Forest district plans tunnel to connect Antioch Twp. preserves
Forest preserve district signs contract to make plans for $4 million project
As work to bring public access to a long hidden gem in the Lake County Forest Preserve system in Antioch Township nears completion, an associated project is being pursued to multiply the benefit.
The forest preserve district is planning a tunnel beneath busy Route 45 near Miller Road to connect trail systems at the established Raven Glen Forest Preserve on the west with Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve to the east.
Ethel's Woods, which has been the site of a lengthy and complex project to restore North Mill Creek by draining the man-made Rasmussen Lake, is planned to open for public use in summer -- 18 years after the property was acquired.
Forest commissioners earlier this month approved a $310,202 contract with Civiltech Engineering Inc., of Itasca, to produce construction documents for a 145-foot-long tunnel beneath Route 45 just north of Miller Road.
The project also includes about a quarter-mile trail connection to allow walkers, bikers and equestrians to move between the two preserves.
Civiltech's plans will outline the dimensions of the trail tunnel project, how it is to be built, material specifications and other details.
That the contract is awarded and being paid for by the district is expected to give it a leg up as it competes for federal funding to cover as much as 80 percent of the estimated $4 million cost.
"We believe that prepares the project and it's a stronger candidate," said Randy Seebach, the district's director of planning and land preservation. "When you fund the Phase II (engineering) locally, they know you're serious, they know you've made a commitment."
An application to the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration, will be made in coming weeks, with an answer expected in the fall.
If approved, the project could be underway in 2020, Seebach said.
"Once we get the notification the funding is coming, we can move that much quicker into construction," he said.
The tunnel will be higher than others in the system to accommodate equestrians. It also will be the longest, to allow for the eventual widening of Route 45 from two to five lanes.
Besides providing safe passage, the tunnel is considered a crucial part of the planned extension of the Millennium Trail and Greenway, which currently connects 10 forest preserves and 10 towns in central, western and northern Lake County. The proposed Route 45 tunnel will be the sixth on the Millennium Trail.
"It's a key section because of the difficulty in crossing Route 45," Seebach said. "It's important."
A new segment of the Millennium Trail from McDonald Woods is part of the ongoing Millburn bypass of Route 45 about a mile south of Miller Road. That trail gap will be filled when Route 45 is widened, but there is no timetable.
The forest preserve district also would like to extend the trail north from Ethel's Woods 5 miles to Route 173 and the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve.
Meanwhile, work to publicly open Ethel's Woods is about 85 percent complete, Seebach said. Features will include a 25-car parking lot, toilets, a 1.5-mile gravel loop trail and four scenic overlooks.