State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, who represents parts of both Chicago’s West Side and Oak Park, says he’s frustrated by the public input process in the first phase of a new look at redesigning the Eisenhower Expressway. The Illinois Department of Transportation process, he says, is effectively inaccessible to many of his constituents.
To address that concern, Ford has scheduled an 8th District town hall meeting for Friday at Columbus Park Refectory, a community center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago that’s close to the Oak Park line.
Ford’s office said the first part of the town hall meeting will be devoted to issues related to minority participation in the procurement process at IDOT in general, and to the Eisenhower expansion project in particular.
Ford criticized the location of a Nov. 18 meeting that IDOT called an open house. It was held at a hotel in Hillside. IDOT officials present at that event said they had made no decisions, and that they would spend the rest of the fall and winter collecting input on what people think is needed in any reconstruction of Interstate Highway 290. However, while the public was invited to formally comment to IDOT, no comments received after Dec. 3 were to be included in the formal input process.
Ford said he asked Illinois Secretary of Transportation Gary Hannig to extend that deadline by one day to allow the comments collected Friday afternoon to be included. Hannig granted the extension.
“It’s crucial the state receives our residents’ input on the project,” Ford said last Wednesday, the day the extension was granted. “The residents deserve a public hearing right here.” He stressed that Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood share common issues related to the Eisenhower redesign and that both communities face similar threats to their environments.
Ford praised the village of Oak Park for taking the leading role in opposing initial efforts by IDOT in 2001 to take over the planning of the Eisenhower redesign, and for continuing to monitor the state agency’s actions.
Rob Cole, assistant to Oak Park’s village manager, has been one of those most closely involved with that monitoring. He served on a subcommittee of the now-stalled Cook DuPage Corridor Study, an almost half-decade look in which two of three phases have been completed. Cole strongly advocates rapid rail extension over additional lanes in the expressway ditch, for economic, environmental and social justice reasons.
Cole said a rapid light rail extension west to the Oak Brook area “would encourage community reinvestment in the areas served by the new rail extension and serve to reconnect the communities long overlooked by our highway-oriented investments to the economic and social opportunities that first began to leave them when the highway was built.” Extended rapid rail service, he said, would connect job seekers from the West Side with economic opportunities in the western suburbs.
“The region is only as strong as its weakest links – a solution that does not meet the needs of our low- to moderate-income residents does not meet the needs of the region. Highway capacity is not the problem, and highway expansion is not the answer,” Cole said.
In the end, according to Cole, both the village and the city’s West Side must work to avoid losing additional land to highway expansion.