Imagine jogging or riding your bike above some of the city's neighborhoods without having to stop for traffic. The long-anticipated "606" - a nearly 3-mile elevated linear park - is set to open this June. The $95 million 606 project is just about ready for its close-up.
“It's going to be the next great public space in Chicago, as well as a transportation corridor and a living work of art,” said Beth White.
White is with the Trust for the Public Land, a nonprofit that raises money to preserve and create park space. We first met her in 2011 when we ventured up onto what was then known as the "Bloomingdale Trail." At the time, it was a crumbling, overgrown abandoned railway that was a magnet for vagrants, litter, and the occasional jogger.
But the 3-mile elevated pathway has since been cleared and paved, with brand new light fixtures - and 37 refurbished or brand new bridge structures - including a striking suspension bridge over Milwaukee Avenue.
“The Milwaukee arch bridge which was erected late last year is its own kind of signature bridge. You don't see many of those around,” said Moira Coughlin, The 606 Project Manager for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The 606 will connect four neighborhoods - starting on the east in Bucktown at Ashland and Bloomingdale, and winding up to the west in Humboldt Park where crews are building what's soon to be a space observatory.
Along the way, there will be six new parks and a handful of accessible entrance ramps.
“This used to be a viable rail freight line that’s not used for that purpose anymore. It’s now going to be an alternative transportation corridor for hundreds of cyclists, pedestrians,” said White. “It connects to three Blue Line stations, a Metra station, dozens of bus routes. And it's a great return on investment for these communities.”
The city had hoped to open the trail last fall, but Mother Nature put the brakes on it.
“The winter of 2013-14 was a very difficult winter,” said Coughlin. “It froze the earth where we could not remove it easily and it just slowed the progress immensely.”
The city says construction is expected to be completed on budget with the money coming from a mix of private sources, and federal, local, and state government resources. But there is still one hang-up -- part of The 606 may fall victim to statewide budget cuts. Gov. Bruce Rauner has canceled nearly $3 million in state grants to help complete the project as he attempts to rein in state spending.
The cuts would stall construction on two of the six parks along the trail. But 606 supporters say they will lobby the governor to change his mind.
“Work is underway, commitments have been made, and they also create jobs,” said White. “Parks are really critical to the health of these communities alongside good schools, good transportation, jobs.”
And The 606 is already proving to be an economic boon for the surrounding communities - with property values and new construction going up - and a proposal for a massive multi-story mixed use development that connects to the trail where an Aldi Store currently stands on Milwaukee Avenue.
But, Beth White says the benefits go far beyond economic.
“You’re investing in neighborhoods, you’re providing parks. But it’s also something that brings people together. The social cohesion that's provided by parks -- it's one of the few places where you can come across people from all walks of life and work on common purpose,” she said.
And it has been thanks to various groups from different walks of life that a more than decade old vision to turn an abandoned railway into a gleaming linear skypark is now months away from becoming reality.
Chicago Tonight has learned that the city is looking into creating yet another linear elevated bike path and park out of an existing abandoned railway. This one would run through Englewood on the city's south side.