The Illinois Department of Transportation announced last Wednesday that it is “re-initiating” the first phase of a study of transportation needs related to Interstate Highway 290, better known as the Eisenhower Expressway. The project is separate from an aborted five-year, two-phase study of the Cook and DuPage corridor, which included the Eisenhower.

An advisory group consisting of elected officials from Cook and DuPage counties and from the eight municipalities directly affected by any Eisenhower expansion has already met. A presentation this month in Hillside kicks off the public input process.

IDOT said that the first phase of the preliminary engineering and environmental study would “take a fresh look” at transportation needs related to the Ike. The segment of the Eisenhower being assessed extends from west of Mannheim Road in Hillside to east of Cicero Avenue in Chicago.

Any rebuild of the expressway is years off. In May, IDOT announced it would resurface the entire 13.5-mile-long Eisenhower Expressway, from I-88 west of Hillside to the Kennedy Expressway downtown. The $45.1 million project will be the biggest in the Chicago region next year.

The new IDOT I-290 study comes in the wake of the cancellation of a planned Phase 3 alternatives study by members of the Cook DuPage Corridor Study.

That analysis of alternatives will not be conducted now, because of financial pressures the RTA is facing. Loss of that Phase 3 study effectively transfers planning authority and direction to IDOT, which has a history of choosing roads over rapid rail.

An extensive transportation planning report, the Cook DuPage Corridor Study, looked at the possible extension of the Blue Line rapid-rail system west to DuPage County. That report was generated through work done over the last four years and had collected public input. The report was paid for by the Regional Transportation Authority.

An IDOT press release, however, suggests the state will disregard any information gathered in that process.

“It’s important to remember that this study will take a new look at the transportation needs and will not be influenced, or bound by, any prior studies and reports,” an IDOT engineer said in the press release.

Observers say that comment pertains to both the discontinued Cook DuPage Corridor Study and to a 1998 IDOT study that recommended high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

By undertaking its own public input study, IDOT may gain the upper hand in applying for federal funding for added vehicular lanes on the Eisenhower, a development that could have enormous repercussions in Forest Park and other towns located along the highway.

The IDOT release stated that interaction with “potentially affected communities is important for ensuring that IDOT proposals are consistent with community goals and objectives.” To that end, it said, a Corridor Advisory Group has been organized. Elected officials from Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview, Hillside and Westchester and Chicago, as well as from Cook and DuPage counties will serve on the committee.