A PACE bus departs from the Forest Park Blue Line Station on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, off of Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The latest Illinois Department of Transportation capital improvement program for fiscal years 2023 to 2028 includes funding for a number of west suburban projects – including something that may allow buses to ride past rush-hour traffic from Forest Park to as far north as Palatine. 

The highway portion of the plan includes around $11.74 million to rebuild the shoulders of I-290 and Route 53 between Desplaines Avenue and Lake Cook Road in northwest suburban Palatine. 

The improvement will allow buses to ride on the shoulder during rush hour and other slow traffic conditions, something that Pace buses already do on I-55 and I-94 expressways. The plan also includes funding for various bridge replacement projects, sidewalk accessibility improvements and traffic signal improvements, many in Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest. 

But it may be a while before riders see Pace buses serve the entire corridor. Pace spokesperson Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said the transit agency is currently in the early stages of doing the market analysis for the section of I-290 between the Forest Park CTA terminal and Mannheim Road. The specifics of that service, as well as any use of the shoulder further northwest, won’t be decided until later time.

According to IDOT spokesperson Guy Tridgel, “the general scope of work consists of restriping, resurfacing, signage and rumble strip modifications.”

“The project will accommodate both existing Pace service and routes planned in the future,” he added.

Pace Route 757, a rush-hour commuter shuttle, which linked the Harlem/Lake CTA Green Line station in Oak Park, the Forest Park Blue Line terminal and office parks and hotels in the northwest suburbs, used I-290, but that service has been suspended since early in the pandemic. Pace route 604 uses most of the Route 53 portion of the corridor.

Daly Skogsbakken said Pace couldn’t comment on the future of the suspended routes, including Route 757, until the budget 2023 budget process begins this fall. However, she said that Pace’s experience with similar services suggests that riders will flock to express routes that are competitive with driving time.

She said Pace asks IDOT for bus-on-shoulder improvements for potential future service. For now, their first priority is the Desplaines to Mannheim portion, since IDOT already indicated that it was planning to refurbish that stretch. 

Since their ridership data was pre-pandemic, Pace wanted to make sure that any service they launch fits the current commuting patterns, where employees don’t go to the office as much as they used to. 

Daly Skogsbakken said that the study is currently” in the early stages,” and the rest of the timeline will depend on when IDOT makes the improvements and the results of the market study. 

As for the rest of the corridor, Daly Skogsbakken said Pace is preparing to do a “full system analysis and really look at the high-level view” of how the pandemic affected ridership demand region wide.

The highway portion of the program also includes funding for a number of west suburban projects.

Around $28.4 million has been earmarked to replace Ridgeland Avenue bridge over I-290, replacing the retaining walls and signals for the railroad tracks below. Around $5 million will go toward repaving Roosevelt Road from Desplaines Avenue to the Belt Railway embankment in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, with the plan stating that the work will take place in 2023. 

Another $585,000 will go toward accessibility improvements for the section of Desplaines Avenue between Madison Street and Roosevelt Road scheduled for 2023. A total of $8.06 million is earmarked for replacing the I-290 bridge over Des Plaines River. 

A total of around $3.19 million will go toward signal improvements and repaving the section of Harlem Avenue between Armitage and North avenues, with $9 million going toward repaving and accessibility improvements for North Avenue between I-294 and Harlem Avenue. Another $900,000 will go toward construction engineering for improvements for North Avenue between Cicero Avenue and York Road in Elmhurst.

In a statement to the media, Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman touted the plan as “perhaps the most consequential in the history of IDOT” due to increased state and federal investment.

 “We look forward to working with our partners and stakeholders, delivering these important projects in communities up and down our state,” he said.