A new 3.5-mile section of the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Veterans Memorial Trail will become a reality thanks to a $5.3 million federal grant.

The paved trail section will be built in Homer Township from 159th Street, just east of Interstate 355, south to Hadley Valley preserve. Construction could begin sometime in 2020.

The northern section of the new trail segment will connect to a path the Illinois Department of Transportation is building along the north side of 159th Street from I-355 east to Route 45. The southern section of the new Veterans Memorial Trail segment will connect to the Forest Preserve’s Spring Creek Greenway Trail. The project includes two tunnels that will carry the path under 167th Street and Gougar Road.

The Transportation Alternatives Program grant was allocated recently by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning as part of $475 million in federal funds awarded to 70 transportation improvement projects throughout the region.

The grant will pay for 80 percent of the Veterans Memorial Trail extension. The City of Lockport is contributing $575,000 for the project, which will help the Forest Preserve pay its 20 percent grant match.

The trail segment is a critical link in a collaborative effort by the Forest Preserve and its partners to build out Will County’s regional trail system, said Ralph Schultz, the District’s chief operating officer.

“Connections like these offer true nonmotorized alternatives that clean our air and offer healthy options for travel between our homes, businesses and natural areas,” he added. “We look forward to working with others to continue to expand the Veterans Memorial Trail in the future and provide additional opportunities and connections within our communities.”

Trail planning grew out of construction of the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355), which provides a 15-20 foot wide corridor for portions of Veterans Memorial Trail.

“With more than 20 years in planning and engineering, we look forward to helping make the tollway a truly multimodal transportation corridor,” Schultz said.

Ultimately, if all of the planned trail segments are completed, Veterans Memorial Trail will stretch around 15 miles from Internationale Parkway in Woodridge south to New Lenox.

Currently, the trail consists of a 4.73-mile segment that travels from 135th Street in Romeoville to Woodridge. Additional segments are planned from 159th Street north to 127th Street (ending at Lemont’s Centennial Park) and south from Spring Creek Greenway Trail to Route 6 across from Silver Cross Hospital, which would be part of a commercial development overseen by the Village of New Lenox. A connection to the Schneider’s Passage trailhead on 135th Street also is planned.

For more information on Veterans Memorial Trail and other Forest Preserve projects, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.