February 14, 2022
This coming Thursday, February 17th, Epstein’s feasibility study for the proposed Lake Calumet Trail will be receiving an Honor Award in the Studies, Research and Consulting category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois (ACEC-IL) at their annual Engineering Excellence Awards.
This gala, which is being held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, honors firms, clients and owners who are making significant contributions to the engineering profession and highlights the impact their projects and efforts are making on society.
For the Lake Calumet project, Epstein was selected to prepare a feasibility study and conceptual design for a bicycle and pedestrian connection along the shore of Lake Calumet in Chicago. The scope of the project involved identifying a bicycle and pedestrian corridor to connect the Pullman Neighborhood and the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) to Big Marsh Park.
Lake Calumet, the largest body of water within Chicago, situated at the very southeast end of the city, is a physical barrier between the Pullman National Monument, Big Marsh Park and other destinations to the east. Improved pedestrian and bicycle access across the lake would connect these two destinations, while simultaneously providing new access and recreational opportunities along Lake Calumet.
This trail connection was identified by the Active Transportation Alliance and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning as a key connection in making a regional trail network. As an initial step in developing Lake Calumet to the Pullman Trail Connection, Epstein conducted a study to assess existing conditions, define project objectives, develop design criteria, gather public input, determine potential alignments, and produce cost estimates for the suggested connection, which included a combination of trail, boardwalk and bridge structures.
As part of the project, Epstein prepared conceptual design (renderings provided here) for bicycle and pedestrian overpass of the Canadian National (CN) Railroad that runs parallel to Stony Island Avenue within the project study area.
To create these connections, the proposed trail had major barriers to cross including I-94, Lake Calumet, Norfolk Southern Railroad and Stony Island Avenue. The IIPD requested the trail not impact port operations or the Harborside International Golf Center. They were concerned about trail users leaving the trail and trespassing on IIPD property or disturbing the sensitive Harborside Marsh Pond north of Lake Calumet, which consists of high quality wetlands and natural habitat. For this natural area to be a draw for trail users, Epstein created a cost effective alignment that preserved the currently off-limits natural areas, but allowed adjacent access to them at the same time.
To meet these challenges, Epstein explored the use of a floating trail and found that the cost would be somewhere between an on-grade trail and a trail on structure. We researched construction material and type of floating docks paired with a concrete surface. We worked closely with dock manufacturers to develop a solution that could be scaled up to a nearly one-mile length of floating trail. We explored methods of anchoring and tethering, its resistance to impact, changes in lake levels, wave action, safety, accessibility comfort, and transitions to on-grade trails. The public engagement was robust with an online public survey promoted by local civic organizations, community groups, Friends of Big Marsh and Southside Trail Blazers. Individual stakeholder meetings were conducted with fourteen different stakeholder groups and elected officials to gather input on desirable amenities, community benefits, concerns and barriers to accessing the trail. From public engagement, it was determined this trail would be a destination in itself. Thus, we felt it was important to offer amenities and points of interest along the trail for stopping and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
Our study is being honored by the ACEC-IL for its innovative solution to increase opportunities for outdoor recreation and an improved connection and stewardship for natural resources, species and habitat on the south side of Chicago. The Lake Calumet area is rich with a wide array of species, high quality wetlands and remnants of the original marsh system in the region and the south side of Chicago is lacking in open space and access to nature. And by finding a way to construct a trail without impacting sensitive environmental areas, Harborside International Golf Center, current and future IIPD port operations, navigation on Lake Calumet, and Norfolk Southern tracks, all while keeping the costs of the trail reasonable was deemed award-worthy by the ACEC-IL.
Congratulations go out to our team responsible for this study, led by Tim Gustafson, Beth Norton, Hannah Perl and Dave Hilty.
Lastly, an added Epstein-related bonus to the ACEC-IL Awards Gala is that our director of civil engineering, Greg Osborne, and his all-engineering industry rock n’ roll covers band, Labor Shortage, is the entertainment for the evening! In addition to Greg, Labor Shortage is comprised of: John Clark from Peralte Clark; Isaac Yun, from The Invert Chicago (and former Epsteiner); John Naughton from Orion Engineers; and Dolan McMillan of Collins Engineers.