The Eisenhower becomes congested between Harlem and Austin because it’s never been expanded to four lanes as it has east of Austin and west of Harlem. Our neighbors in Oak Park have blocked any proposal to allow the trench to engulf any more dwellings. This congestion backs up the Eisenhower in both directions and diminishes the quality of life for people from the West Side to DuPage County.
How can the government add a lane to the Eisenhower within the constraints imposed by Oak Park?
Of course, if the federal government wanted, it could take the land through eminent domain laws. But Oak Park has the political clout to block this option.
There are three freight rail lines, owned by Wisconsin Central, in the trench. At first glance it might seem like they could be consumed for more asphalt in service of the automobile. However, the federal government has a master strategy for improving freight rail in the region. One of the major goals of this project is to reduce the “at grade” crossings where roads and train tracks intersect. So, the federal government would prefer to get more freight trains in the trench, not fewer, because trains in the trench don’t hit cars at rail crossings.
Oak Park has lobbied for a trade. If the federal government builds a cap over the Eisenhower, then Oak Park would be open to widening the interstate, even if this included demolishing existing properties. Oak Park would take this deal because it would develop far more taxable real estate on the cap than it would lose in the widening. The cap proposal is crazy expensive, but the Iraq War is crazy expensive too, and cost hasn’t kept the federal government from wasting that money. Cutting Paris Hilton’s inheritance taxes-along with the other progeny of the ultra-wealthy-is another crazy expensive idea, and the cost hasn’t kept the Republicans from making this a top priority either.
An ambitious (but more modest) change would be to remove the Blue Line from the trench and to reroute it to Roosevelt Road between Central and Austin. My preference would be to run the Blue Line west a considerable distance to Westchester or the Oak Brook Shopping Center.
By removing the rapid transit line (it seems inappropriate to call it “elevated” when it’s in the trench) from the trench the Eisenhower could be widened.
Extending the Blue Line on Roosevelt would provide clear benefits. Loyola Medical Center and Hines VA Hospital would be on the rapid transit system. One can take a bus from the Forest Park Blue Line stop, but the trip is time consuming.
The extended Blue Line would increase property values through a swath of Proviso Township. Higher property values would attract citizens who would vote for better government and better public schools. Forest Park’s public high school is Proviso Township High School District 209. Maywood, Broadview, Westchester and Hillside are all District 209 communities that would benefit from extending the Blue Line on Roosevelt.
Forest Park is doing well, but it would do even better if it had a quality public high school system. But Forest Park can’t fix the dysfunctional high schools without allies in the other Proviso communities.
The least ambitious plan to widen the Eisenhower by tinkering with the Blue Line is the semi-submerged plan. The semi-submerged plan calls for transferring some rapid transit real estate to the interstate. The Blue Line would still provide the same services by putting the eastbound (to the Loop) and westbound (from the Loop) services on top of each other. The lower level train would be submerged-partially or entirely-in a semi-underground tunnel.
In addition to giving one track to the Eisenhower expansion, architects can probably narrow the station and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
During the construction of the semi-submerged track, the Blue Line could operate a single-track shuttle between Austin and Forest Park. It would be less convenient, but not a major disruption.
On a related note, I’m glad to see people are talking about making the Blue Line exit on the Circle Avenue bridge both an entrance and an exit. Hopefully, the Village of Forest Park will raise this issue with the CTA and CATS, the Chicago Area Transportation Study.
CATS is the transportation planning body for the region. CATS has Metra, CTA, other transportation entities and some local officials in its decision making process. There are no positions at CATS directly elected by the citizens. Would you rather elect the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which manages waste water, or CATS, the entity that oversees regional transportation?