A new look: Dixon riverfront redevelopment enters final phase

Project Rock open house details planned pedestrian bridge’s next steps

Larry Berkenpas of Dixon looks over plans and renderings on display Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 of the multi-use path and bridge in Dixon.

DIXON – As he talked to visitors entering Dixon City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, Larry Reed knew the informational boards lining City Council chambers signified the culmination of three decades of important work.

Reed is chairman of the Dixon Riverfront Commission, and he has been in that leadership role since its first members, including himself, were appointed in 1998. Since then, the commission has been working with city officials to plan a multiphased riverfront redevelopment along the Rock River.

On Tuesday, with the first two projects now completed and the third underway, an open house gave residents a glimpse of the fourth and final phase – Project Rock – which will include a pedestrian bridge spanning the Rock River.

“I realize that it won’t be done tomorrow, but at least the future can be seen,” Reed said.

His work on Dixon’s riverfront redevelopment actually goes back much further than 1998. Riverfront redevelopment had been on city officials’ radar since 1989.

As an implementation engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation working in Dixon’s District 2 at the time, Reed said talk began surfacing about the need to replace the Galena Avenue Bridge. It runs over the Rock River into Dixon’s downtown and was overseen by the state, leading him to be involved in the bridge replacement discussions.

With that came discussions on how to improve the riverfront. He retired from IDOT in 1998 and was appointed to the Dixon Riverfront Commission that year. The Galena Avenue Bridge was completed in 2002, the same year the Riverfront Master Plan was developed, according to information presented at the open house.

As residents milled around City Council chambers Tuesday, Reed – wearing a T-shirt that read “Pier to the Future: Bridging the River from Page Drive to the South Bank” – detailed how the riverfront’s development had progressed over time.

“We had a dream for the city of Dixon that had four phases to it,” he said. “We now have got Phase 1 and 2 built, Phase 3 is being built as we talk, and then Phase 4 is what is presented tonight.”

The first phase, Heritage Crossing, broke ground in August 2008 and was completed in 2009. Featuring walking and biking trails, it also has a performance space, restrooms, a statue of hometown son President Ronald Reagan and an amphitheater.

Also in 2009, a multiuse path that extends east along River Road from Galena Avenue to Route 2 was installed, completing Phase 2.

The third phase of the project at Viaduct Point, the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program multiuse path, is under construction now. It extends the bike path 1.6 miles – stretching east on River Road toward Raynor Garage Doors and west along the river with a ramp to the viaducts running to Seventh Street.

It is being funded with $5.6 million in ITEP grant awards that include a $2 million grant in 2016 and a $1.4 million ITEP supplemental grant awarded in 2021. Planning took place from 2017 to 2020, with construction getting underway earlier this year.

Work also has included cleanup at the former Dixon Iron and Metal Co. site.

The fourth phase, Project Rock, will construct a pedestrian bridge on the old Illinois Central Railroad piers, add 2.8 miles of multiuse path, add new sidewalks and crossings, and resurface Page Drive, which is maintained by the Dixon Park District.

In November 2021, federal officials announced that Project Rock would receive a $12 million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program to build the pedestrian bridge. It was those plans that were put before residents at Tuesday’s open house.

What’s next?

Reed said Tuesday night’s meeting was to gather input from the community and to determine whether changes need to be made. According to information from the city, Project Rock will go out for bid next summer, with major construction set to begin in spring 2025.

“In normal construction procedures, it’s not going to be [done in] one day, two years. It may be three years or four years,” he said. “At least it’s on the horizon.”

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema is the editor of Sauk Valley Media.