(photo courtesy of Amy Malina)

It’s unclear how long it will take and how much money it will cost, but plans to expand the I-290 Expressway and possibly the CTA Blue Line between Racine and Forest Park – and points beyond – are taking shape.  

About 80 people attended a meeting, held at Proviso Math and Science Academy Oct. 8, to see four plans presented by representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff.

A Power-Point presentation of a four-year study on improving the Ike between Austin and Harlem was displayed, and about 40 questions from the audience were answered.

Attendees were able to browse a room filled with displays of proposed changes to lanes, exit ramps and bridges.

The study recommends expanding the 51-year-old Eisenhower and simultaneously upgrading the integral bridges and CTA stations – bringing structures in line with modern standards of noise and air quality, auto and pedestrian safety, disability access and aesthetics. It currently covers the section of I-290 from Mannheim Road to Racine Avenue and the Circle Interchange area in Chicago.

There were some familiar faces from Forest Park in attendance including Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioner Rory Hoskins, as well as former commissioner Marty Tellalian.

Images, Inc., the consultancy group facilitating the event, was also familiar to Forest Parkers. They are the group in charge of crafting Forest Park’s comprehensive plan.

The meeting showed four proposals for upgrades and alterations. All current proposals would stay within the existing “footprint” of the combined expressway/train line.

That was important to Calderone.

 “My initial concern was about the acquisition of (Forest Park) property for such a project, but that has been for the most part ruled out,” Calderone said.

The idea of extending the Blue Line further west – even possibly moving the train yard from Forest Park to Maywood, in one proposed changed – is also under discussion.

“I’ve long been an advocate of extending the Blue Line to Maywood,” Calderone said.

Three of the four proposals would require a “managed lane” on the Eisenhower, giving preference to lanes for bus and carpool use – and/or requiring tolls to be paid.  Carpool lanes got less enthusiasm from the mayor.

“I’m not sold on the idea of HOV [higher occupancy vehicles] lanes.  I think people like driving their cars.”

“I don’t have any problem with the lane expansion as long as there are appropriate sound barriers,” Calderone added. “But aesthetically, I think a little more could be done – more green space provided.”

Two of the four proposals suggested high-occupancy vehicle lanes with tolls. In one proposal, vehicles would be charged a toll for travelling in the lane without a driver and two other passengers. In another proposal, all vehicles with fewer than three passengers would be tolled.

IDOT spokesman Pete Harmet said in an email that IDOT was “examining various tolling options at each evaluation round.” He said IDOT is trying to “determine the effectiveness” of tolling and also the effectiveness of using tolls as “a potential funding mechanism.”

There is also the possibility of the development of a bicycle/pedestrian trail along the north side of the expressway from Columbus Park to Des Plaines Avenue.

Creating new right-side exits at Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue were part of all four plans.

According to Harmet, congestion and safety are the top concerns, since that stretch of expressway experiences more than 2,500 crashes per year.  The part west of Austin – just six lanes – has a 24 percent higher crash rate than the eight-lane portion west of Austin, Harnet said.

CTA strategic planner Janine Farzin addressed the agency’s concern over the deterioration of the involved stations.  She described the section  –  including the train yard at the end of the Blue Line  –  as “pretty much at the end of its useful life, with exposed rebar, cracked concrete,” narrow platforms, insufficient access for the disabled, and dangerous walks for pedestrians.

Farzin said the million-dollar study, paid for with federal funds including some earmarked by the Village of Oak Park aimed at exploring livability and possible partial “decks” or “caps” over the Ike.

There is currently no funding in place for the actual remodeling of the Ike and the CTA stations along it. According to Harmet, even if the money magically appeared right away, the soonest building could begin would be 2016.

Officials encouraged people to share the project website – www.eisenhowerexpressway.com  –  and said they are actively seeking additional public comments on the proposals.  All comments submitted by Oct. 22will be included for consideration in the next phase of the study.

In addition to online comments, correspondence can be sent directly to Illinois Department of Transportation-Region One/District 1, Attn: John Baczek, P.E., c/o: Mark Peterson, 201 W. Center Court, Schaumburg, Illinois 60196, or by fax: 847.705.4159

Vox 60130 to present Ike Forum

More discussion of I290 expansion and development comes to Forest Park Oct. 23 when Vox 60130 (formerly Citizens United in Forest Park) will present an informational evening on the Ike/Blue Line redevelopment at the former St. Bernadine’s School, 815 Elgin Ave. in Forest Park.

Answering citizen questions will be Pete Harmet from Illinois Department of Tranportation (IDOT), and Rick Kuner, from Citizens for Appropriate Transportation (CAT). Vibrant audience Q&A is welcomed. The event begins at 7 p.m. More information can be requested by emailing: vox60130@gmail.com.

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