Timeline: Track the 606 project from start to current status.
Update: Officials announced in late June that the Bloomington Trail would open in June 2015. They said the construction delays were due to a long Chiberia winter.
By Emily Rosen, Kenny Reiter and Bob Bailey
Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014
The hum of construction fills the air above the intersection of Milwaukee and Leavitt avenues in Chicago. Behind the construction barriers lies the former Bloomingdale Line, which once helped transform Chicago into a city of industry.
For the 2.7-mile track looming above Wicker Park, Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Bucktown, another transformation is taking place, one that residents like Alan Corradino of Palmer Square are excited to see -- the 606 project.
“I donated $10 to it, actually,” Corradino said. “It’s kind of cool that it runs all the way over to Wicker Park. It would be nice to ride a bike down it and not worry about getting hit by some distracted drivers.”
The 606 project will turn the nearly three miles of unused train track into a park that will be home to art and other amenities. It will contain trails for biking and running and serve as open green-space.
Official plans for converting the line into a public space dates back to the late 1990s, when it was a part of the city’s bike plan. In 2003, the City’s Department of Planning and Development held a series of public meetings to determine how to bring new open space to the city’s northwest side, forming what would become the 606.
The Logan Square Open Space Plan called for a reuse of the former industrial rail corridor and this started the formation of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, a group of residents who would lead the project for the next decade, dedicating to making the vision become a reality.
Members of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail reached out to the national non-profit, The Trust for Public Land, which helped bring together a coalition of city and civic organization to move the project forward.
The name comes from the 606 ZIP code prefix of Chicago, and is
meant as an homage to the transportation history of the line, according to the Trust for Public Land.
DePaul professor Joe Schweiterman, author of “When the Railroad Leaves Town,” said the name was better left alone.
“Chicago being such a big railroad town with the Milwaukee Road being such a big part of a heritage ... to wipe that away for a clever slogan, I think that was a mistake,” he said.
The Trust for Public Land website showed that the 606 project received $43 million in public funding. A $16.5 million in grant money was given to the project in 2013 and none in 2014, according to the 2014 budget appropriations available through the City of Chicago’s data portal.
Boeing endowed the 606 with its “game changer” award in December. Along with Exelon and CNA, Boeing provided the project with its first $7 million in private funding.
The History of the Bloomingdale Line
According to the606.org, the story of the 606 began after the Great Chicago Fire. In the city’s efforts to rebuild, the City Council gave permission for the Chicago & Pacific Railroad to lay tracks down in the middle of Bloomingdale Avenue on the Northwest side. This move helped connect goods from far rail ports to Chicago and support Chicago’s industrial growth.
In 1893, the City Council passed an ordinance mandating that railroads elevate their tracks within six years because of public safety reasons with the tracks. The Bloomingdale line was one of the last to conform to the new rules. The construction began in 1910 and was completed in 1913.
For almost a century, the rail line served small manufacturing districts across the city’s northwest side, including bicycles, furniture, confection and instrument makers. Trains passed overhead until the 1980s, when activity slowed down. By the mid-1990s the few trains that used the tracks were re-routed and freight served came to a stop.
Transportation experts such as Schweiterman knew that the rail line was becoming obsolete, but were surprised by how long it survived.
“The writing was on the wall for that line for a long time,” Schweiterman said. “ But it’s remarkable that just a few years ago trains were still running on it.”
Industrial neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square converted into residential areas. Trees and flowers grew between the tracks and animals made it their homes. This unofficial nature trail found its way into the city in the early 2000s.
The Second City Once Again
Chicago’s the 606 is the second major city park in the U.S. built from a former rail line. New York’s High Line has been open to the public since 2011 when the section two, of the three sections, was completed.
Much like the 606 project, the High Line is funded both publicly with city funds and privately through donations. According to the New York City Economic Development Group, the project cost $152.3 million for section 1 and 2 and $86.2 million for the design and construction of the opened area. The Trust for Public Land estimated the total cost of The 606 at $91 million.
The High Line stretches 1.4 miles and boosts food vendors and shops. The 606 project will cover 2.7 miles when it is completed, connecting five ground-level neighborhood parks and giving residents an urban oasis.
Construction on the High Line began in 2006, and section one was opened to the public in 2009. Shortly thereafter, in 2011, section two was completed and opened. Groundbreaking for the third phase was done in 2012 and is projected to be completed this year, according to thehighline.org.
In the summer of 2013, construction workers embarked on the 606 project. In recent months, large-scale construction has been in the works such as moving the Ashland bridge to its new home over Western Avenue.
The first phase of the park is expected to be finished by the fall of 2014.
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