Built for the kind of traffic that Harlem Avenue generated in 1912, the bottleneck of a viaduct at Harlem, which separates South Boulevard/Circle Avenue and North Boulevard/Central Avenue, is a doozy.

Too narrow and too low for the trucks, buses, cars (not to even contemplate bikes) that pass under the CTA, Metra and freight lines, the three towns that border this snagglepuss have been working for seven years to win funding for a total rebuild through the federal government’s TIGER grant program. Back in 2009, Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest won an $800,000 grant to “study” the viaduct. The conclusion of the bureaucrats was a resounding “what a mess.” But since then, the towns have been shut out twice in seeking the $21 million in federal dollars that would be necessary to undertake the $26 million project.

Now they’re at it again with a new and improved proposal and the backing of Rep. Danny Davis, who is optimistic. We value optimism from a federal official who has watched as Republicans have basically shut down all funding for infrastructure projects across this decaying land.

This rusted, bent viaduct ought to be the poster child for a worn out bridge. Hell, when the viaduct was built, Downtown Oak Park didn’t even exist as a commercial district, the CTA wasn’t merged into existence until 1947, and there was no such thing as a Dunkin Donuts until 1950. 

The only thing worse than trying to get down Harlem, past this giant time-waster, is contemplating what we’ll all do if the funding does actually get OK’d and the viaduct is under construction for two years.

A tiny TIF

Once a municipality begins the inexorable process of creating a Tax Increment Finance District (TIF) it becomes hard to dissuade them. They are a wonderful shiny object packed with possibilities in the eyes of elected officials.

And so it is right now in River Forest where hearings will begin on turning the north half of Madison Street (Forest Park is on the south side) from Lathrop to Thatcher into the village’s second-ever TIF.

Honestly, it hardly seems worth the bother. With the non-property-taxpaying Community Center anchoring the westernmost block of the proposed TIF and a recent village OK for a new multifamily project on the seriously blighted old Hines Lumber site, there isn’t much to invest in. There’s a sad sack strip mall and a couple of modern townhouse projects. The Green Earth nursery seems viable. The village says it has no current plans for displacement. 

So what’s to develop and how great is the upside? There is more potential for the contemplated TIF along North Avenue, in our opinion.