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By Anna Lothson
The frigid winter temperatures have hit. But there's a small strip of sidewalk in Oak Park you won't ever see touched by a shovel, plow or even salt.
Like any luxury, however, it comes at a cost. But it's a price you won't likely see Oak Park invest in again. Walking along the 100 block of North Marion Street, pedestrians and business owners have the benefit of heated bluestone slate sidewalks. After the 2007 completion of the street renovation, a $6 million project that consisted of granite curbs and an underground water-filtration system, Oak Park won an urban design landscape award.
Still, the cost of keeping the sidewalks going is steep.
Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said the heated sidewalks cost roughly $25,000 a year, primarily because of electricity and maintenance. Having heated sidewalks is extremely helpful, he said, but it has since been determined to be too expensive. The 100 North Marion Street sidewalks will remain heated, but this won't become a trend.
Wielebnicki said the heat turns on and off, based on sensors that are programmed to automatically adjust for frost, snow and ice. A mat underneath the bluestone provides a signal to a central controller.
Public works crews, he said, routinely drive by to check that the sensors are working and aren't covered up. Sometimes nearby shoveling and snow can obscure the sensors and prevent the electricity from kicking in.
Overall, Wielebnicki said the heat is a perk, but future renovations probably won't include it.