The Home Avenue pedestrian bridge is seen on Monday. Sept. 26, 2022, over I-290 in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

The Home Avenue pedestrian bridge offers walkers and cyclists a safe and convenient path across the Eisenhower Expressway, while linking the north and south halves of Oak Park. But the bridge itself is something of an eyesore. Its functionality is its only quality. And that functionality is deteriorating.

“It’s a little jank,” said Lisa Reed, who walks across the bridge several times a day. “It would be lovely to have something a little nicer, maybe a little greenery.”

As it stands now, the gray bridge consists of concrete surrounded by metal safety fencing held up by vertical metal posts. Metal handrails grace each side. When crossing it, one can see patches of newer cement covering potholes caused by years of wear and tear. The view from the highway is even worse, with graffiti covering the utilitarian support columns.

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The bridge is hardly representative of Oak Park’s reputation for striking architecture, but in the next few years, it will catch up. The village of Oak Park has committed to replacing the bridge with something equally functional, and altogether more attractive. To add to its beauty, federal funding, it is hoped, will cover most of the expense.

“I think it’ll be a real plus,” Village President Vicki Scaman said of replacing the bridge.

The Home Avenue pedestrian bridge is seen on Monday. Sept. 26, over I-290 in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

The village board authorized staff, Oct. 3, to apply for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a new grant program through the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the village is awarded the grant, it would fund up to 80 percent of the project’s design costs.

The process of replacing the bridge will take about four years, with the work starting in 2023. The village intends to use capital fund revenue to pay for what federal funds will not cover.

The Community Design Commission will assist a hired design consultant in vetting bridge designs. Public meetings will be held to gather input from residents.

Bridge design will take place in two phases. A preliminary engineering study will be conducted as part of the first phase, which will take place over the next two years. The cost of the study will be paid out over two years as well, in the amounts of $300,000 and $500,000, respectively. Grant funding would cover $240,000 and $400,000, respectively.

The design process itself makes up phase two, which will occur in 2025. The village has budgeted $1 million for phase two, with potential grant funding accounting for $800,000. Construction of the bridge is planned for 2026 and has a budgeted cost of $5.6 million, with grant funding accounting for $2.1 million. The village board will have the opportunity to weigh in on cost considerations before construction begins.

The project is intended to be fully designed early in the process so that it can be built prior to the replacement of Interstate 290 to take advantage of any potential federal funding. Actual work on the highway will begin in 2028, according to Scaman.

The Home Avenue pedestrian bridge is seen on Monday. Sept. 26, over I-290 in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

While the prospect of a more beautiful bridge was exciting to Reed, the same could not be said for others who frequent the bridge. Although she often bikes across it, resident Sharon Pearce told Wednesday Journal she doesn’t pay much attention to how the bridge looks, nor does she wish to see it replaced with something fancier.

“It personally sounds like a waste of money,” Pearce said of the project.

Just what beauty could be added to Oak Park with a more visually pleasing Home Avenue bridge is fodder for the imagination at the moment. McKenna, however, said the bridge will be “architecturally significant” with design elements that could include landscaped entryways and potted plants.

Safety outranks beauty, however, especially for the volunteer advocacy group Bike Walk Oak Park. The group, perhaps best known for its backing of the Greenways program, would like the bridge to better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians together.

“We’re going to advocate that there is a clear designation that this is a shared space for pedestrians and for cyclists,” said BWOP’s Jenna Holzberg.

While bicycling across the bridge is allowed, the narrowness of the bridge causes some pedestrians to be concerned about potential collisions with people on bicycles. BWOP has already received several emailed complaints from citizens who would prefer cyclists walk their bikes across the bridge rather than ride them.

“There is definitely room for improvement there,” Holzberg said.

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