Fifty or so Oak Park residents, most of whom have loyally attended six public meetings and filled out a series of questionnaires over the past 14 months, finally got a glimpse of what they can expect if the Eisenhower Expressway is ever capped. In fact, they got three glimpses.
The citizens gathered last Wednesday evening in the village council chambers to view drawings of three variations of the final version of the proposed cap. They also had the opportunity to listen to presentations by representatives from URS/TAP, who spoke on the engineering, financial, legal and political issues attendant to any cap project.
URS decided to present three variations of a cap concept that incorporates the most popular alternatives as voted on by 259 "active participants" and over 1,300 survey respondents during the 14 month, $250,000 planning process. The village was successful in getting the Illinois Department of Transportation to postpone formal study and planning for the Ike reconstruction. The I-290 corridor is no longer in the agency's current seven year planning cycle. But while no work would begin for at least seven, or as long as 10 years, committee chair Fred Brandstrader and Assistant Village Manager Pete Dame stressed that they want to be ready when IDOT finally gets around to addressing the Eisenhower reconstruction.
"The village's success in delaying the work on I-290 gives the community the opportunity to work proactively to establish goals for how it would like to structurally change the Eisenhower's long-standing impacts on Oak Park whenever the Ike is rebuilt," said Dame, who called the current situation a "once in 50 year opportunity."
"It is the community's opportunity to make long-needed improvements to mitigate the impacts of the expressway and bring Oak Park back together," said Brandstrader, who urged participants to "think out of the box."
Among the goals Brandstrader spotlighted are reconnecting the south and north sections of the village, improving mobility and access to public transit, and enhancing the overall quality of life in Oak Park. The three concept variations, he said, will do just that. Ranging in cost from $285 million to $965 million, the planned work would return between 24 and 57 acres of useable surface to the village. Additionally, the projects would reduce noise and particulate pollution in various degrees. The estimated costs include construction, some transit improvements and any proposed air quality technology, but does not include engineering costs.
Among the amenities envisioned are a continuous east-west bike path, expansion of Rehm and Barrie Parks, and additional north-south pedestrian and vehicle crossings over the expressway.
While the audience was largely supportive of the cap proposals, there where some probing questions in the post presentation Q & A. Noting that the original Eisenhower Expressway, including its bridges and side walls, needs to be totally rebuilt after half a century of use, one man brought up the inevitable rebuilding 50 years hence that will be necessary for whatever type of cap structure is built.
"What happens in 50 years?" he asked a URS engineer. "Why would I want to build a building that (will only last 50 years)?" Replied the engineer, "You have to be careful with the type of building you build," and added that, in his opinion, the average building, unless it's heavily renovated, has a useful life of 50 years.
Somewhat taken aback, the man stared at the engineer for a moment, then said, "You realize you're talking to people who live in houses that are 90 and 100 years old."
Dame said that citizen input is still being sought. The three final concepts are on the project website, and may also be viewed until Feb. 15 at village hall. Public comment will also be accepted prior to that date, after which it will be considered by the committee before it makes its final presentation to the village board.
Dame noted that the village has secured an additional $1 million through Congressman Danny Davis and Senator Dick Durbin for further study.
"This funding is important to ensure that this current study, when finished, can continue to explore the cap concept in greater detail."