A revitalized project to rebuild Interstate 290 and create a multimodal transportation system along the highway corridor could have a major impact on Forest Park, the mayor said, and could help determine how officials make use of recently cleared public property near The Altenheim.
Mayor Rory Hoskins acknowledged several steps still need to be taken before any projects begin, but he struck an optimistic note last week in the days before President Joe Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure package into law on Nov. 15.
Proponents of a plan to reimagine the Eisenhower Expressway corridor seized the passage of the bill through the state legislature as the moment to push for a 2017 Illinois Department of Transportation proposal to be enacted, something that may be more realistic today but is still far from a concrete plan.
But if the efforts to rebuild I-290 do get off the ground, Forest Park wants to be a big part of it, and Hoskins said the village has a wish list they’ve shared with state and local decision-makers. Those priorities include a rebuilt and widened Circle Avenue bridge, bike paths added along Desplaines Avenue as it crosses the highway and, more than anything, a thorough examination of the Forest Park Blue Line station, the end of the line at 711 Desplaines Ave.
“We don’t have all the answers but we’re just excited about the idea of a significantly rebuilt Forest Park Blue Line station,” Hoskins said.
Among the things the village may suggest, he said, are improved roadways around the transit center, “safety enhancements” like increased surveillance cameras, the addition of solar panels on the building’s roof and a physical connection to the nearby Howard Mohr Community Center.
And because of the station’s location, a renovation to the transit center will be a part of the process to build up the nearly 11 acres of village-owned land near The Altenheim retirement community, property that has sat undeveloped for years.
The village-owned Altenheim property abuts CTA land near the Blue Line station, a single building still owned and operated as The Altenheim, and Concordia Cemetery. Forest Park received a grant earlier this year to demolish the derelict buildings on the property, a project that was completed late last month, and the village is expected to discuss next steps for a multi-use project in the coming weeks.
Any decision on what to do with the land, Hoskins said, would be made while considering forthcoming changes to the Blue Line station.
“With the uncertainty of what may happen to the Blue Line in terms of possible reconstruction, it just lends itself to a lot of measuring and a lot of input,” he said. “There are residents right across the street. There are seniors who live in The Altenheim. You obviously want to have participatory government in making a big decision, and so we’ll seek input from a lot of different partners.”
Hoskins added that any decision on The Altenheim would not be contingent on what happens to the Blue Line station, but he and his colleagues would “be cognizant of what’s happening.”
While the project to rebuild I-290 — and the ripple effects it would have on the Blue Line, highway crossings and The Altenheim — is still unofficial and in the very early stages, Hoskins expects to see additional village improvements on tap thanks to the federal infrastructure package.
Back during a so-called “infrastructure week” under the previous presidential administration, Hoskins said U.S. House Rep. Danny Davis contacted him to ask for Forest Park projects to include. He proposed funding to “service” Jackson Boulevard between Harlem and Desplaines avenues, something Hoskins believes is included in this current infrastructure package. That project would include better lighting and bump-out curb extensions on a busy stretch of road that includes the Forest Park Public Library and Garfield Elementary School.
“I think all the mayors and their councils and boards are pretty optimistic right now,” Hoskins said. “I’ve talked to my colleagues about [it]. We’re excited. … We want to see Illinois benefit. We want to see Forest Park benefit, obviously.”