Des Plaines River Trail Improvements

A person jogging on the Des Plaines Trail.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County is working on projects in several sections of the extensive Des Plaines River Trail System to improve trail user experience, enhance safety and better connect surrounding communities to the Forest Preserves.

On this page:

Current Construction

Work has started on three segments of the Des Plaines River Trail, totaling 4.4 miles of trail repair and upgrades, between North Ave and Touhy Ave. To safely complete the improvements, trail users should expect periodic and full closure restrictions as necessary. Active closures and alerts can be viewed on the Des Plaines River Trail System Page.

Bryn Mawr-Lawrence Segment

Plans include the repair and upgrading of the unpaved trail surface, including adding approximately 1,000 feet of boardwalk in a section near the river that frequently floods to raise the path profile above the 100-year river flood elevation.

A pedestrian bridge will be installed that will take trail users over Lawrence Ave. Currently, the Des Plaines River Trail goes under Lawrence Ave via an underpass, which frequently experiences flooding.

Additional access at the southwest corner of East River Rd and Lawrence Ave will be created by re-routing an existing trail, typically unusable due to wet conditions, to drier ground adjacent to Lawrence Ave. Signal and ADA improvements are also part of this project at the intersection of East River Rd and Lawrence Ave. Learn more.

Devon-Bryn Mawr Segment

Construction activities include pedestrian intersection improvements at both Bryn Mawr Ave and Higgins Ave. In addition, the trail surface on the existing bridge over I-90 will be converted from stone to asphalt, which will create a smoother, more manageable surface on the slopes.

Touhy-Devon Segment

Work consists of trail resurfacing, including standardizing the width and texture of the trail. Two outdated crossings will be upgraded to improve visibility between trail users and motorists. The mid-block crossing at Touhy Ave will be re-routed to a new signalized crossing at the intersection at Talcott Rd. At Devon Ave, the existing tunnel under the road will be removed and the trail re-routed to an at-grade, signalized crossing at the intersection of Devon Ave and Dee Rd. Realignment of the trail to the intersections creates connections to the Des Plaines River Trail for residents and commuters who use the trail for both recreation and transportation purposes.

spring flooding covers the Des Plaines Trail
Typical spring flooding on the Des Plaines River Trail.

Improvements from North Ave to Touhy Ave

In 2019, the Village of Rosemont hired engineering consultants to conduct a preliminary (phase 1) engineering study for the 10-mile segment of the Des Plaines River Trail System from North Ave to Touhy Ave on behalf of the Forest Preserves and Des Plaines River Trail Advisory Group, which includes the West Central Municipal Conference, transportation agencies and bicycle advocacy organizations. The study identified improvements to address issues like flooding, safety at roadway and railroad crossings, trail access and trail user experience.

The study was separated into two parts: North Section (Touhy Ave to Irving Park Rd) and South Section (Irving Park Rd to North Ave) to allow easier projects in the North Section to proceed sooner, help build momentum for more challenging infrastructure improvements south of Irving Park Road, and allow more time for study of a “Prairie Path Connector” south of North Ave.

The phase 1 engineering study was funded by grants to the Village of Rosemont from the Cook County Department of Transportation’s Invest in Cook Program and the West Central Municipal Conference and was key to securing additional grants for projects in the North Section.

North Section (Touhy Ave to Irving Park Rd)

The 5.4-mile North Section (Touhy Ave to Irving Park Rd) is on higher and drier ground away from the river, which has put it on a faster track than the wetter South Section.

The preliminary engineering study for this section was approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) in 2021 and over $15 million in funding for phase 2 engineering and construction has been secured by the Forest Preserves and three municipalities for four trail improvement segments:

  • Touhy Ave to Devon Ave: The City of Park Ridge has been awarded $2 million in Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) and other state funds for 100% of the estimated cost of trail improvements, including standardizing the width and texture of the trail, moving the mid-block crossing at Touhy Ave to the signaled intersection at Talcott Rd, and creating an at-grade crossing at the signaled intersection at Devon Ave and Dee Rd (eliminating the Devon Ave underpass).
  • Devon Ave to Bryn Mawr Ave: The Village of Rosemont has been awarded $1.6 million in ITEP and other state funds for 100% of the cost of reconstructing trail segments and improving crossings at Higgins Rd and Dee Rd.
  • Bryn Mawr Ave to Lawrence Ave: The Forest Preserves has invested roughly $600,000 in local motor fuel tax (MFT) dollars for phase 2 engineering and was awarded $7.9 million in Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) and Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds, accounting for 80% of the funding for phase 3 construction.
  • Lawrence Ave to Irving Park Rd: The Forest Preserves’ CMAQ grant award (see above) also includes $3.5 million for construction and phase 3 engineering to relocate this trail segment away from the river and out of the floodplain. As of January 2022, phase 2 engineering is in process with ITEP grant funds awarded to the Village of Schiller Park with 10% local match from the Forest Preserves. Forest Preserves local match funds for this segment and Bryn Mawr to Lawrence are motor fuel tax funds provided through an agreement with the Cook County Department of Transportation & Highways.

South Section (Irving Park Rd to North Ave)

The 4.9-mile South Section (Irving Park Rd to North Ave) closely follows the river and experiences more frequent and longer periods of flooding than the North Section. The preliminary engineering study analyzed these flooding issues, along with road crossings and trail conflicts with railroad tracks and private property, and considered three alternatives:

  • Moving the trail out of the 100-year flood plain and away from the river, which would impact mature woodland and stream habitats.
  • Keeping the current alignment by building an expensive six to eight-foot elevated boardwalk to raise the trail out of the floodplain.  
  • Rerouting of the trail about a mile to the east, closer to Cumberland Rd.

Ultimately, rerouting the trail closer to Cumberland Rd was selected as the most effective way to address flooding and road crossing issues, while minimizing expense and impact on natural areas. The preliminary engineering and cost estimates are expected to be completed by summer 2022. Funding partners have not yet been identified for phase 2 engineering or construction.

Prairie Path Connection (North Ave to Madison St)

The study area was extended roughly three miles south of North Ave to consider alternatives for connecting the Des Plaines River Trail to the Illinois Prairie Path at Madison St in Forest Park. Additional funding is needed to complete the study for these additional miles, but the preliminary alignment is for an on-street bike route along Thatcher Ave in River Forest.

Project Resources

Rail Crossing Improvement Between Golf Rd & Central Rd

The Union Pacific Railroad tracks north of Golf Rd and south of Central Rd create a significant interruption to the Des Plaines River Trail System’s continuity, present an unsafe environment for trail users and discourage use of the trail by residents of neighboring communities. To close this trail gap, the Forest Preserves will realign the trail and construct a bridge over the railroad tracks.

The Forest Preserves is working with other key stakeholders on this project: the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County Division of Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad, Illinois Commerce Commission and ComEd, which has powerline towers in the vicinity.

Options for different alignments for the bridge were presented at a public Open House on May 17, 2019 at the Des Plaines Public Library. More than 30 attendees viewed and commented on the exhibits, asked questions of the staff and consultants, and provided feedback on the trail.

Funding for phase 2 engineering, construction and construction engineering has been awarded from Cook County Department of Transportation (Invest in Cook), federal grants (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program) and the Illinois Commerce Commission (Grade Crossing Protection Fund).

As of January 2022, the project is in phase 2 engineering design, the preparation of construction documents. Construction is expected to start in early 2023 and be completed by early 2024, subject to IDOT approval of project plans and the local funding agreement.

Project Resources

elected officials cutting a ribbon on the Catherine Chevalier Woods Bridge on the Des Plaines River.
Catherine Chevalier Woods bridge ribbon cutting.

Catherine Chevalier Woods Bridge (Completed)

A 12-foot wide bridge over the Des Plaines River now connects Rosemont to the Des Plaines River Trail, from Bryn Mawr Ave on the west side of the river to Catherine Chevalier Woods on the east. The bridge gives Rosemont residents and visitors direct bike and pedestrian access to the trail.

This $1.3 million project was funded by the State of Illinois (80%) and Village of Rosemont (20%). Construction started in August 2020 and the bridge opened in June 2021.

South Extension Planning Study

Salt Creek Trail to Chicago Portage

The Des Plaines River Trail System currently ends at Sunset Bridge Meadow, just north of North Ave. There is a gap, or missing segment, between North Ave and Ogden Ave approximately 6.5 miles in length. South of this gap, in the Village of Lyons, the Des Plaines River Trail runs for approximately 1.3 miles from the Cermak Family Aquatic Center on Ogden Ave, south to the Chicago Portage National Historic Site.

A planning study focused on the southern-most segment of the gap between W 26th St and Ogden Ave was completed in November 2019. The goal of the project is to identify the most feasible alignment or route in this area, along with key community connector routes in the villages of Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and Lyons. This study was done through a CMAP Local Technical Assistance project.

The West Central Municipal Conference is taking the lead on the next step for completing a phase 1 study in 2020 using STP funds to cover 80% of the costs and the Forest Preserves along with area municipalities will provide the 20% match.

This study is a first step toward the goal of closing the entire 6.5-mile gap and creating a connection between the Illinois Prairie Path and Salt Creek Greenway.

Current Activities

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is leading the planning study: