Although no general election was held in Illinois this November, a select group of Forest Park residents and property owners are casting their votes on whether two noise-damping walls should be erected along the Eisenhower Expressway in their neighborhoods as part of the state’s highway expansion project.
Mayor Anthony Calderone termed the Illinois Department of Transportation’s process for soliciting neighborhood opinions on the noise-damping walls “interesting” following a presentation by IDOT officials on the project at the Nov. 9 village council meeting.
He said he thinks IDOT has done “a remarkable job of public outreach” on the Eisenhower expansion project, adding, “I cannot imagine anybody saying they did not get a chance to comment.”
The Forest Park residents and property owners are among 4,000 people along the expressway whose opinions are being sought. IDOT officials employed a complex process to identify those living or owning property along the expressway for whom noise-damping walls would reduce traffic noise by at least five decibels.
Single-family homes are offered single votes and multi-unit residential buildings are offered one vote for the building owner and a vote for each unit. Forest Park residents and property owners will be offered 49 votes, 17 for one wall and 32 for the other. For the first wall, all 17 votes are single votes. The area voting on the second wall includes three multi-unit residential buildings, which will account for 22 of the votes. The other 10 votes are single votes.
The main goal of the project is to expand the expressway to four lanes in each direction on the nine miles of expressway’s western end. Current plans call for accomplishing that without acquiring additional land, according to Peter Harmet, IDOT bureau chief of programming. In response to a question from Commissioner Joseph Byrnes, he said no homes or businesses are threatened.
The additional lane from Mannheim Road to Austin Boulevard will be called a “hot lane” with car pools and public transportation allowed access at no charge and other traffic required to pay a toll. The “hot lane” will continue to Racine Avenue.
Although traffic noise will not increase with the project, Harmet said it also will not be reduced. He also said only noise-damping walls are being considered. The other options, berms and trees, are not viable due to a lack of space.
The noise-damping walls, which would range in height from 10 to 15 feet, are only proposed for the north side of the expressway through the village. Jamie Bents of Huff and Huff, a sub-consultant on the project, explained that no noise-damping walls are planned for the south side of the expressway through the village since those areas include cemeteries, park district property and an industrial area.
Bents said ballots have already been mailed. If the response in each affected area is less than 33 percent, a second mailing will be conducted. Whether noise-damping walls will be included in the project in each affected area will be determined by simple majority of those votes received.
“Personally I would be in favor of a noise wall,” Calderone said. “It won’t make it silent, but it will make a difference.”
Although planning for the project began in 2009 and IDOT officials hope to complete planning by 2016, there is no timetable for the project itself. No cost estimates exist and no funding is available.
The project study area extends approximately 13 miles centered along I-290 from the I-88 and I-290 split on the west to Racine Avenue on the east. In addition to Forest Park, the corridor passes through Chicago, Bellwood, Broadview, Hillside, Maywood, Oak Park and Westchester.
When the study began, the focus was on the section of the expressway from Mannheim Road to Cicero Avenue. As the alternatives evaluation process advanced, the limits were extended four miles eastward to Racine Avenue.
The project includes wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes on Desplaines, Circle and Harlem avenues where those streets cross the expressway. In addition, the southbound right turn lane would be extended at Desplaines Avenue and the traffic signals would be improved at Harrison and Circle. At Harlem Avenue, the ramps would be moved to the right and turn lanes would be added on the ramps.
The project incorporates expansion of the CTA’s Blue Line terminal in Forest Park, as village officials learned when CTA officials made a similar presentation at the October 13 village council meeting, and an extension of the Prairie Path bicycle east into Chicago.