More than 200 people, including several from Forest Park and Oak Park, viewed a public presentation last Wednesday outlining the state’s latest attempt to determine the future of Interstate 290. But some community leaders along the Eisenhower Expressway are skeptical the Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t already sure of its plans. An almost decade-long study of whether to widen the highway was seemingly tossed aside by the state, according to critics.
“It looks like a farce to me,” Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, an Oak Park resident who attended the presentation, said. “It’s very hard to convince me that this is an honest attempt to get public opinion and do anything on the basis of it.”
The open house event, which lasted four hours and was held in Hillside, started with an 11-minute video run on a continuous loop. The video outlined details of the three phases of the state’s potential redesign of the highway.
Phase one is preliminary engineering and environmental studies. Phase two would include finalizing the design and land acquisition. Phase three would be actual construction. IDOT officials said they have made no decisions on whether the road might be widened, and will spend the rest of the winter collecting input. Any construction is expected to happen in about six years.
IDOT officials are characterizing the current study as a “fresh start.” Critics of the process, however, are questioning why the now 8-year-old Eisenhower reconstruction planning process, begun with the Cook DuPage Corridor Study, appears to be starting over.
Mayor Anthony Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian, both of Forest Park, attended the presentation. The municipality has expressed its concern that widening the roadway would bite into any number of Forest Park properties, but until the state has an actual plan, there is little to argue about.
Further developing public transit options in the area isn’t likely to wipeout vehicular traffic, said Calderone, so it seems that widening the Ike is unavoidable. What remains up for debate is the extent to which that occurs.
“It’s going to be widened,” the mayor said.
Peter E. Harmet, IDOT’s bureau chief of programming, said no decision has been made. Though the state has said it is not “bound by prior studies,” Harmet insisted the years of work done on the Cook DuPage Corridor Study won’t be ignored.
“Certainly a lot of great work has been done with the Cook-DuPage study, and we’re not going to reinvent that.”
Harmet said public input and technical assessments would be gathered over the winter.
IDOT officials were available during the event in Hillside to answer questions. Three long tables featured several 20-foot long photos of the Eisenhower between Cicero Avenue in Chicago and Mannheim Road in Hillside. Scratch paper was available for attendees to write out desired elements in the reconstruction, along with ideas on what they did not want to see in the design.
The public is invited to comment by logging on to www.eisenhowerexpressway.com/informed. All comments must be received by Dec. 3 to be included in the planning.
Kevin Brubaker and Rick Kuner of Citizens for Appropriate Transportation, who helped organize opposition to IDOT’s original 2001 Ike expansion plans, responded with an e-mail campaign on Monday.
“Illinois spent $140 million to fix the Hillside Strangler, yet travel time remained virtually unchanged,” the e-mail stated. “If we were to build all the lanes traffic engineers say is necessary to ‘solve’ congestion, the Ike would be 12-14 lanes wide.”