The top elected and administrative officials from Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park convened a rare joint meeting at the Carlton Hotel Monday night to hear a presentation on proposed improvements to the Harlem Avenue Green Line elevated viaduct at South Boulevard.
In the process, all involved praised the likelihood of increased intergovernmental cooperation on a variety of issues.
Officials heard a presentation from representatives of H.W. Lochner, the firm overseeing planning for the viaduct project. The study is intended to produce several results, including assessing options for alleviating congestion both on Harlem Avenue headed south and north bound, and on South Boulevard and Circle Avenue west and east bound. There will also be aesthetic design improvements intended to produce a “gateway” effect for all three villages.
The latest activity marks a continuation of a process that began in the early 1990s.
Four years ago the three villages conducted a feasibility study. As with the feasibility study, the federal government is paying 80 percent of the cost, with Oak Park is paying 1 percent and Forest Park and River Forest each paying 5 percent.
The current “Phase I services” engineering study is estimated to cost at least $1.1 million and take approximately two years to complete. That design will be a preliminary package, according to Jeffrey Schlotter of H.W. Lochner.
As the report is finalized, local officials will be working with the federal government to secure funding for Phase II work on the final project design. Actual construction is not expected to begin any earlier than 2012.
The two key alterations will be the rebuilding of the viaduct to a single span model, removing the existing center column supports. That renovation will allow the construction of a fifth traffic lane intended to reduce congestion. Engineers will also be looking at ways to remove the offset between South Boulevard in Oak Park and Circle Avenue in Forest Park. Those two roadways are currently not aligned, causing significant slow downs for traffic crossing Harlem Avenue.
Project engineer Dave Shannon said a third goal of the project is to create a gateway identity for the area.
“There’s a great opportunity to do a lot of enhancements, to improve the entire area and make it very much an area people would be proud to come into,” Shannon said.
Schlotter stressed that throughout the planning and design process officials would utilize the principles of Context Sensitive Solutions, which call for respecting the overall environment in which the project exists, and seeking public input throughout the entire process.
“We will keep citizens a part of the plan team,” Schlotter said.
Beyond the immediate task of conducting the engineering study, officials expressed enthusiasm for strengthening ties between the three communities. The process holds the promise of serving as a template of sorts as the three villages explore greater cooperative efforts on an array of challenges. David Pope, village president of Oak Park, spoke of “significant shared interests” between the three villages.
“It presents a tremendous opportunity for the three communities to work together on not only on this issue but issues of mutual interest across our shared borders,” Pope said.
Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone also praised the effort.
“Equally as important is the history being made tonight, with the opportunity of our three communities coming together to talk about working together on this one particular issue,” Calderone said. “There certainly are opportunities we can and should work together on, so I see this as only the beginning.”