The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) held its second public forum in as many years, last week, to gather input on future plans to revamp the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) corridor.

The four-hour event, held at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, was attended by the public as well as representatives from IDOT and government officials from towns that will be affected by any future construction. Ideas floated for the Eisenhower Project, as it is being called, include repairs to sections of the highway, a westbound extension of the CTA Blue Line, additional CTA bus routes, new mass transit lines and new bicycle paths, all of which could occur in an area stretching from Chicago to Oak Brook. IDOT has proposed adding an extra high-occupancy vehicle lane to the expressway.

Presently, the project is in its infancy, said Forest Park Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who attended the event. IDOT will be gathering input from the public and all involved entities and agencies until 2013.

“This is years and years away,” Gillian said, adding that IDOT and government officials were only planning at this point.

The project idea was hatched in 2001, said Pete Harmet, bureau chief of programming for IDOT, but planning stalled while the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) conducted an IDOT-sponsored study that examined the feasibility of a “transit-only solution,” he added. IDOT’s meetings with government officials resumed in 2009.

The state’s transportation agency has pointed out that the antiquated Eisenhower corridor – opened in 1960 – between Cicero Avenue and Mannheim Road is in dire need of repair, but officials also support the RTA study, which largely identified the need for improved mass transit.

Harmet said the study didn’t point entirely to “preferred alternatives,” noting that IDOT adopted aspects of the study that emphasized the need for high-occupancy lanes on the Ike and an extension of the Blue Line.

“Our next step is to evaluate those alternatives,” Harmet said.

There are problems aplenty with the aging expressway: 30 percent of the highway’s ramps fail federal safety standards and layers of the pavement have eroded over the years. As last year’s heavy rains demonstrated, the 50-year-old drainage system by the Desplaines River in Forest Park does not have the capacity to handle high water levels. (A poster depicted the Ike’s flooding near the Desplaines River last July, surrounded by others that highlighted problems and initiatives.)

Gillian, who has represented the village at the IDOT meetings since 2001, said Forest Park was largely focused on improving mass transit.

“We put in the idea that it’s not pedestrian friendly to get to CTA stations,” Gillian said, pointing to difficulties crossing busy streets at entrances by Desplaines Avenue, Harlem Avenue and Circle Avenue.

“They have a direct role in the [planning] process,” Harmet said, when asked about local governments’ input on the project.

IDOT suggested bringing the Desplaines Avenue el stop in compliance with the accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Another poster board at the presentation suggested an electrical commuter train that would start in Chicago, run through Forest Park, and stop at the Oak Brook Mall.

“We’ve received a lot of [positive] comments about extending the Blue Line,” said Harmet, in reference to feedback from various communities.

The aim of the Eisenhower Project is to improve travel along the Eisenhower corridor, but also to encourage more people to utilize mass transit in an attempt to scale down traffic and reduce the environmental impact. Part of that initiative might also include car pool lanes on the highway, to encourage people to share rides and reduce the number of vehicles on the highway. Several communities, particularly Oak Park, have vigorously opposed widening the roadway.

Newly elected Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris attended the forum and said he wanted new bike lanes, connecting with the Illinois Prairie Path further west.

“That is something I plan on pursuing,” Harris said.¬†

If any construction does occur on the Ike, it will mean heavy congestion in areas between Austin Boulevard and Mannheim Road, where there are only three lanes.

But no ground will be broken until at least 2016, Harmet said – that is, if there’s money to fund the project. Harmet said IDOT will need federal dollars to fund 80-90 percent of the project.