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If you don’t get ahead of the curve on most issues, you lose your ability to have any influence. That’s particularly true with the upcoming Eisenhower Expressway reconstruction as it affects Forest Park.

True, any work on the Eisenhower is easily six to eight years away-there’s no money for any Ike work in the current Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) seven year cycle. But such a mammoth engineering and construction project takes years to evolve and coalesce into reality. Planning realities require that Forest Park be at the table now, while that process is still fluid.

Let’s be clear about this-the Eisenhower Expressway will be completely rebuilt whether Forest Park ever gets involved in the process. Not resurfaced. Not repaired. Not renovated. It’s at the end of its effective engineered life, and will require total and complete reconstruction, with all new bridges, new supports and road beds. Part of that process will be the redesign and reconfiguration of the expressway, allowing for the possible inclusion of design elements beneficial to Forest Park.

People in Forest Park are fond of making fun of Oak Park’s sometimes overly process-driven politics. But in the case of the Eisenhower reconstruction, Oak Park has it precisely right. They’re at the table and they’re helping to drive the process. And when all is said and done you can bet Oak Park’s interests will be reflected in the new design.

Whether Forest Park’s interests will be reflected is still open to question. This is truly a matter in which Forest Park must “speak now, or forever hold its peace.” Well, at least for the next 50 years.

Two primary items on the Ike Cap committee’s agenda should resonate in Forest Park-reconnecting community, and reducing the environmental impact of the expressway.

While south Forest Park is isolated from the rest of Forest Park, north Forest Park is also largely cut off from the village’s only park district facility. That could be mitigated when the expressway is rebuilt.

Picture, say, a widened Circle Avenue overpass with green space on either side, and a bike/pedestrian bridge between Circle and Desplaines roads connecting north Forest Park directly to the park district. It won’t happen unless we lobby for it.

In late June the Regional Transportation Authority presented five possible solutions to the west suburban area’s growing transportation woes at the Cicero town hall and two other area village halls. The early public favorite, a “multiple hub and spoke” system, would create a new public transportation hub near the Loyola Medical Center in Maywood connecting to a Yorktown or Lombard hub. New direct lines of bus service, or “spokes,” would extend out from those hubs, with mainline rail service between Harlem Avenue in Forest Park and Highland Avenue in Lombard.

The RTA’s involvement in this process is illustrative of how early attention to a process can effectively change the direction of that process. The RTA’s role is the result of efforts by Oak Park officials to counter-balance prior unilateral efforts by IDOT to establish a plan that focused solely on improvements to vehicular traffic flow, rather than also incorporating a strong public transit element. That will now happen, thanks to Oak Park’s timely intervention.

“A significant amount of credit goes to some individual residents who realized early on the consequences [of IDOT’s plans],” Oak Park President David Pope said in July.

Oak Park representatives are on all three committees related to the project and for the past three months those committees have worked with RTA staff to boil down the public input into several themes. A final report is due in November that will offer more detailed options.

Oak Park’s Ike Cap committee has reduced a slough of recommendations into three primary concepts-variations one, two and three. Variation one is the basic and least expensive plan at around $300 million, involving a widening of the six overpasses in Oak Park, including Austin Boulevard and Lombard, Ridgeland, East, Oak Park and Harlem avenues. Variations two and three build on that basic plan, with variation three featuring an 8,300-foot long cap the length of the Ike in Oak Park, costing some $900 million.

I don’t believe a full length cap will ever be constructed, due both to economic and political considerations, as well as engineering concerns. Far more likely, and of greater interest to Forest Park, is variation one. Whatever is ultimately decided, our village needs to follow Oak Park’s lead and appoint a committee comprised of residents, elected officials and business leaders that can assess what the village needs and then effectively communicate those desires to IDOT and the RTA.

“Oak Park is very entrenched in this process,” committee member Fred Brandstrader noted last July. “We’ve got everything pretty much covered.”

Forest Park needs to make sure its interests are covered as well.