Newly repaved, the Eisenhower Expressway ought to be good to go for many years to come. The Ike resurfacing, though, delays just slightly the debate between fundamentally conflicted forces: Whether to add two lanes to the highway by exploding it out of its existing ditch through the village, or whether to finally acknowledge there will never be enough lanes so long as every state and federal policy remains auto- and exurban-focused.
This is the battle Oak Park has been fighting and leading for nearly a decade. We're proud of the village's role in promoting transit alternatives like light rail and its sharp political leadership in organizing other west suburban and DuPage County communities to finally look at transit issues with thoughtful and creative approaches.
There have been four prongs to this sustained effort: Our elected leaders, principally Village President David Pope, have been diligent in forming political alliances. Village staff, led in this instance by Deputy Village Manager Rob Cole, has kept the focus sharp and the pressure on state agencies. Citizen leaders, notably former trustee Rick Kuner, have made the strong, data-driven case for alternatives to more ribbons of concrete. Finally, Oak Park has been paying a lobbying firm out of Washington for the past seven years to keep tabs on where federal dollars — the essential funding for any massive project — might flow.
Now, in tough times, the village comes again to make a budget and at least one trustee wants to review the lobbying costs involved. As we reported last week, $1.3 million has been spent to date. Costs have been contained by the village staff of late, and so, less than $100,000 was spent in 2009.
In a village that recently fired a highly regarded deputy police chief due to budget shortfalls, we think the axe must fall on the Nossaman LLP lobbying firm. It's a tough but necessary choice.
Given the strength of the efforts from elected, hired and volunteer sources we are confident that such a cut can be made without risking the goal of redirecting the constant impulse of the Illinois Department of Transportation to just build more highways, more lanes.
Finally, we strenuously object to the village's recent position that reports to the village from the lobbying firm are protected from our curious eyes by the "pending or imminent litigation" provisions of the state's Freedom of Information Act. Total horse hockey. Totally unacceptable.