As an Oak Park resident with a passion for sound land planning practices and transportation that works, I am truly excited by the improvements to the Eisenhower Expressway and what they mean for our community and the region.
Interstate 290 was constructed 50 years ago, and is nearing the end of its life cycle. It was built when 40,000 cars used it; that number is now 200,000. The Blue Line, too, is overdue for significant improvements. And let's face it: the bridges over the Ike are narrow, dangerous, and not at all pedestrian- or vehicle-friendly. Design and safety standards for traffic management also have significantly improved over the past five decades.
Now is the time for Oak Park to capitalize on a generational opportunity to improve the expressway and our quality of life at the same time.
IDOT has been exemplary in its spirit of cooperation and keen interest in community concerns. The various scenarios under consideration respond to our concerns. Each option would increase mobility and enhance safety. They would provide more transportation modes, reduce traffic in Oak Park, and generally create a more livable community.
So what are the scenarios under consideration? First and foremost: Any improvements being considered will stay "in the trench" in Oak Park. Specific improvements include widening the bridge decks over the Eisenhower, creating opportunities for beautiful streetscapes, and making these bridges truly bike and pedestrian friendly — at last. The entrance and exit lanes at Harlem and Austin will be made safer and move traffic more efficiently — a graceful design with minimal impact. Bicycle and pedestrian access will be created along Harrison, extending the reach of the Illinois Prairie Path that currently ends in Forest Park. A CTA study envisions modernized Blue Line stations and lines, inviting greater usage.
So far, so good. IDOT is also exploring innovative traffic management programs such as congestion pricing or high occupancy vehicle lanes, which would absorb the current traffic while providing a strong disincentive to the "induced demand" that could appear with added capacity.
What does this mean to our community? By effectively confronting the real need to deal with traffic congestion, Eisenhower improvements will allow us to reclaim our residential streets, now burdened with rerouted Ike traffic. That makes our village cleaner, less congested, and safer — and it reduces local road maintenance costs.
I-290 is an integral part of Illinois' transportation network. It is also a regional asset — and a key reason that residents and businesses choose to locate in Oak Park. Improvements to the Eisenhower will be an asset to our community, improving our quality of life and creating new economic development opportunities.
Oak Park can and should be a national leader when it comes to innovative transportation planning and design. The 290 Corridor Project will cement that reputation.
I salute those residents who have been engaged in the planning process. Their efforts have helped secure a brighter future for the community. Now it is time to embrace that future.
Michael Sturino is president and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association. Formerly Forest Park's village administrator, Sturino is an AICP-certified land planner and attorney.