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Rahm breaks ground on long-awaited Bloomingdale Trail project

Mayor Rahm Emanuel broke ground Tuesday on the Bloomingdale Trail, a decade-old plan to transform a 2.7-mile stretch of abandoned railroad right-of-way into a linear park akin to New York’s acclaimed High Line project.

“This is going to do…for our neighborhoods what Millenium Park has done for our downtown,” the mayor told a news conference Tuesday at Bucktown-Wicker Park library, 1701 N. Milwaukee.

“It will transform them in a way that no other individual investment can. It will bring communities together that were once divided by rail tracks. It will bring `em together in a united and unifying way….It will also add 15 acres of open park space and not just rail-to-trail [like] what it’s measured against the High Line in New York. But, this will have parks off of it.”

Ben Helphand spearheaded the decade-long campaign in his role as head of Friends of Bloomingdale Trail. He said Chicagoans are about to discover, what he called a “new stretch of paradise” along century-old railroad tracks that once served as a “barrier separating” neighborhoods.

“When you stand up on the embankment, you’re only 16 feet away from the hubub of the city, but you see it with new eyes. That’s what I experienced when I went up there 12 years ago. I hope and I dream and I believe that that’s what people are gonna feel when they go up there,” Helphand said.

“It’s not just gonna transform Chicago right now. It’s gonna keep on transforming Chicagoans as they explore the city.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the stage was finally set to begin construction after the city awarded a $53.7 million contract to Walsh Construction Co. II LLC, one of Chicago’s largest and most clout-heavy firms.

The work includes removing old railroad tracks and renovating bridges, viaducts and retaining walls. The first phase is scheduled to be completed in November, 2014.

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to deliver the trail touted as an “urban oasis” for 80,000 Northwest Side residents within a ten-minute walk and a rare east-west link for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The old Canadian Pacific Railway land runs along Bloomingdale between Ashland and Ridgeway. The landscaped embankment, some 16 feet above the street, will connect the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square and provide access to five neighborhood parks.

The railroad hasn’t used the line for regular service since 2001. It sold the property to the city for $1. The Chicago Park District will have ultimate control over the 13 acres of new green space.

Emanuel is not only delivering on his campaign promise. He has made the Bloomingdale Trail the centerpiece of, “The 606,” a network of five neighborhood parks that will feature an observatory, an event plaza, artwork and other public amenities.

The name was chosen because 606 are the first three digits of all Chicago zip codes. It will also make it easier for the public-private partnership to attract corporate sponsors.

The name, “Bloomingdale Trail” led to some confusion with the western suburb of Bloomingdale. It also would have been difficult to market to a major retailer because of the department store bearing the same name.

The entire project has a $91 million pricetag. Roughly $39 million are expected to come from federal funds, while the Park District has kicked in $2 million. The Trust for Public Land has already raised at least $12.5 million from private donors, including $2 million in corporate contributions left over from the 2012 NATO Summit.