Tunnel under Route 45 to provide key link in Lake County trail
Despite the cold and snow, another tangible sign of an ongoing effort to link the regional Millennium Trail and Greenway in Lake County is in progress.
Crews on the west side of Route 45 near Antioch are relocating a 400-foot section of natural gas line to make way for a tunnel connecting Raven Glen and Ethel's Woods forest preserves and fill another gap in the Millennium Trail.
The planned 145-foot-long tunnel just north of Miller Road and about a mile of related trail connections are part of a $4.9 million project, which will allow hikers, bicyclists and equestrians to move between the two preserves and trail systems.
Optimizing public access through a regional network of multiuse trail connections is part of the Lake County Forest Preserve District's 100-year vision.
The Raven Glen/Ethel's Woods connection is considered a key link and a hub for future Millennium trail connections to other forest preserves south along Route 45 and north and east to Route 173.
About 31 miles of the planned 41-mile Millennium Trail through central, western and northern Lake County has been built and the district continues to fill gaps.
"We're getting so, so close to completing that, and this is part of it," said forest preserve Commissioner Linda Pedersen, who has represented the Antioch area since 2008.
The tunnel was to have been completed last fall. But there was a delay in bids being let by the Illinois Department of Transportation due to state budget issues, said Randy Seebach, the forest preserves' director of planning and land preservation.
IDOT administers projects involving federally funded projects, including the bidding process.
The project is 80% federally funded.
"There are so many variables that we have to work through on federally funded projects and delays like this are not uncommon," Seebach said.
January also was lost as the forest preserve prepared authorizations allowing North Shore Gas to relocate a high-pressure gas line on the Raven Glen property, Seebach said.
The gas line runs parallel to Route 45, but the piping isn't buried deep enough for the tunnel excavation to proceed.
North Shore will upsize from a 6-inch to 16-inch gas line to allow for future expansion in its service area, said spokeswoman Vanessa Hall. Construction is expected to take three or four weeks, she added.
That will clear the way for the key element -- a 145-foot long, poured in place, concrete tunnel beneath Route 45.
"As soon as the gas main is moved, they'll remove the existing south bound lane on Route 45 and excavate down," Seebach said.
Traffic will be rerouted and after half is done, the process will flip.
"The good news is we now see a clear path for the completion in the fall 2021," Seebach said.
It will be the longest of six tunnels along the Millennium Trail and allow for the eventual widening of Route 45 from two to five lanes.
There is no timetable but, when it does happen, a milelong Millennium Trail gap south along Route 45 will be closed to connect with McDonald Woods Forest Preserve.
Plans also are to extend the Millennium Trail from the overlook at Ethel's Woods about four miles north and east to the trail segment at Hunt Club Road in the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve.
IDOT will build about a mile of trail along Route 173 when the road is improved. But that also isn't scheduled.
Nonetheless, the forest preserve district last week approved a $48,501 contract to remove dense nonnative and invasive trees and vegetation in portions of Pine Dunes.
"That's one of our last remaining sections of the Millennium Trail," Seebach said.
"We own all the property and we think, 'Let's get in there and get this done.'"
The 467-acre Ethel's Woods is named after Ethel Untermyer, who led the campaign in 1958 to establish the forest preserve district.
The property was purchased in 2001 but not open for public use until the fall of 2019, with the opening of a parking lot, gravel loop trail and four scenic overlooks.
That followed a $6.1 million project to drain a man-made lake and restore the original, meandering path of North Mill Creek.
"I'm really excited about all the improvements that have been done in Ethel's Woods," Pedersen said.
"It's a beautiful piece of property."