The missing link: Tunnel under Route 45 ready to connect northern Lake County forest preserves
A tunnel for hikers, bikers and equestrians beneath Route 45 near Miller Road in northern Lake County is expected to open before the holidays.
"We are finishing up the last few details. Ninety-nine percent of the work is done," said Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
The installation of signage and a final inspection by various forest preserve departments are planned in coming weeks.
The project features the longest of seven tunnels in the forest preserves' extensive trail system. The concrete structure was designed to accommodate the planned widening of Route 45 from two to five lanes by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
As part of that work, IDOT plans to extend the regional Millennium Trail north from the Millburn bypass near Lindenhurst. But there is no timetable for that project, Seebach said.
"Our thought was while we have the funding we'll put the tunnel in. It can stand alone," he said.
The underpass has been in the forest preserve's capital plan for about five years. Initial engineering proposals were approved by the forest district nearly three years ago. Construction began in February.
Eighty percent, or more than $3.8 million, of the project cost is from a federal Transportation Alternative Program grant administered by IDOT.
Besides cyclists and pedestrians, the tunnel also was built to accommodate horses.
"We always targeted this as being an equestrian-friendly portion of the Millennium Trail" and Greenway, Seebach said. Horse trailer parking at Raven Glen has been underused, Seebach said, because the trail system there is relatively short.
With the tunnel open, it's a much longer trail for equestrian users, he said.
Raven Glen and Ethel's Woods are about the same size, combining for 1,150 acres. Ethel's Woods was the site of a lengthy and complex project to restore North Mill Creek by draining a man-made lake. It opened for public use in winter 2019, 18 years after the property was acquired.
Besides connecting the two forest preserves, the Route 45 underpass and related work is considered crucial for the Millennium Trail, which is ultimately planned for 41 connected miles and is more than three-quarters complete.
Plans are to extend the existing trail at Ethel's Woods four miles north and east to the Pine Dunes forest preserve.
Three miles would be built by the forest preserve and one mile along Route 173 by IDOT. Grant funding is being sought to build that project, but the forest preserve has done some advance tree clearing and engineering.
The Millennium Trail currently connects 10 forest preserves and communities in central, western and northern portions of the county to the Des Plaines River Trail, which runs the length of Lake County from north to south.
Tunnel: Path will accommodate equestrians, too