The residents of Lake Forest can feel a little safer this year as they cross two well-traveled footbridges. And it wasn’t just what the city did to improve infrastructure in 2022 that makes the story; it’s how they did it.
Mike Thomas, Lake Forest’s Director of Public Works, says it was a mix of ingenuity, timing, and hard work that made it all happen.
“We’re required by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to inspect bridges on a certain basis or a certain timeline,” Thomas says. “We had this report completed for us in 2020 and two pedestrian bridges had a poor rating for their superstructure—Illinois and Woodland.”
The two pedestrian bridges had been repaired and patched over the years, but the latest inspection led Thomas to push for the decision to replace them. It was not an insignificant undertaking.
“The formal name is ‘pedestrian’, but I call them the Woodland Bike Path Bridge and the Illinois Bike Path Bridge. The Illinois Bridge was installed in 1994, and the Woodland Bridge was installed in 1995,” Thomas says. “We went ahead and basically looked at that report and said, ‘You know what? It’s time for these things to be replaced’.”
In addition to fully replacing the two footbridges, the city also replaced the Deerpath Water Main and made major improvements to the Burr Oak Area Storm Sewer to mitigate flooding issues. You could call 2022 in Lake Forest a year of progress.
“We started looking at all of the infrastructure throughout town roads, bridges, storm sewers, water mains, water plants, ravines, and everything,” Thomas says. “These were a high priority for us. We brought it to our city council, the finance committee, and reviewed it with them and they agreed with our recommendations.”
With Woodland being a three-span bridge and Illinois a two-span bridge, the logistics for getting them replaced—without major disruptions to bike and foot traffic—was not easy. Timing was also key.
“There are lot of kids that park their cars south of the Woodland Bridge, high school kids, and walk over that bridge and along the bike path to the high school,” Thomas says. “I really wanted to make sure that we didn’t take this bridge out of service until school was out and graduation was done and that we had it back up and in service by the time school started.”
The spans for the bridges were built in Wisconsin and trucked down to Lake Forest, which reduced the amount of interruption to foot and bike traffic. The old bridges were pulled out, the new bridges placed down, new concrete decks poured, and new bridges were born.
“I think a day before the high school started, it was bingo. Woodland was out of service for just a couple of weeks, from the time we actually said, ‘Okay, it’s time to take this one down and put this one up’,” Thomas says. “It worked out perfect. It’s a great bridge; it looks great.”
Ask Thomas about the secret to Lake Forest’s success in keeping its infrastructure up to date and he’ll mention the dedication of the city’s workforce and the contractors the city partners with, but it couldn’t all happen without the city council’s commitment to looking out for its residents.
“I’ve worked for the city now 28 years, I’ve been director since 2012, and without question they all have been extremely supportive,” he says. “It’s wonderful living and working in a town where your city council acknowledges the importance of the infrastructure and puts the necessary funding in to stay up with it.”