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By Anna Lothson
The Illinois Department of Transportation didn't make many friends in Oak Park last summer when it presented multiple options to residents about the Eisenhower Expressway renovation, all of which included widening or adding lanes.
IDOT assured local residents that its plans will keep the highway within its current footprint, but local officials remain skeptical.
Most recently, however, at the West Central Municipal Conference Policy Committee Meeting on Jan. 30, IDOT announced it will analyze an alternative that does not involve adding lanes to the expressway and would include better transit service. Oak Park Village President David Pope advocated this alternative at the meeting.
The Corridor Advisory Group last July left questions on the table for IDOT, and this Thursday, Feb. 21 in Oak Park, the group will present updates about the project.
The summer meeting lent itself to presentations about interchange concepts and development scenarios. This week's meeting, from 9-11 a.m. at the Carleton Hotel, 1110 Pleasant Street, will include updates but CTA representatives will also be present to introduce its Blue Line Vision Study. According to IDOT, the vision study is anticipated to be completed by the fall of 2013, and will be considered in IDOT's Eisenhower study.
During the July meeting, concerns about environmental impacts, better options for public transportation, and moving the left-side Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue ramps to the right side were raised, but mostly, residents cared about keeping the Ike out of their backyards.
Higher left-side ramps, lower road heights, an extra lane on each side, narrower lane widths, public transit expansion — these have been the hot-button items on IDOT's list since announcing its expressway redevelopment plan.
Pope explained that the concerns expressed by Oak Park and other Cook County community representatives on the policy committee were that all of the six options included a widening of the Eisenhower. Oak Park officials have said many times that not all options were being evenly reviewed.
"We're of the opinion that all of the alternatives need to receive fair and even-handed treatment in terms of the analysis," Pope said. "We thought it was inappropriate to have all six of the alternatives presuppose an added traffic lane in each direction, given that no analysis or evaluations to date have shown that to be required."
Oak Park officials have also advocated for more collaborative work with the CTA to extend the Blue Line but in a way that would encourage commuters to use public transportation more.
Oak Park resident Rick Kuner, co-chairman for the Citizens for Appropriate Transportation, a group that opposes the widening of the expressway, said he's more convinced than ever that expanding the Ike is a bad idea. He explained, among other problems, it doesn't solve the congestion problem, has severe environmental impact, and comes with a billion-dollar price tag.
Kuner recently prepared a brief from the citizens group regarding the Eisenhower Transportation Corridor about livability, which he explained is defined by mobility, accessibility, walkability, and sustainability. These are all key concepts he believes need to be taken into account by IDOT in any expressway project.
"Although widening the expressway from six to eight lanes adds capacity, it is not sufficient to meet the demand, and it will have serious negative impacts on adjacent properties in Oak Park and the other communities in the corridor," Kuner wrote in the brief. "A wider expressway does not bring us together — it separates us."
Moving forward, Pope said the policy committee wants the end solution be derived from objective analysis that takes into account the perspective of affected residents who live and work in the corridor.
Assistant Village Manager Rob Cole, who has criticized IDOT for not making documents available early enough for village leaders to properly review, said he don't know what will be the main topics of Thursday's meeting. He does know, however, that IDOT's decision to analyze at least one alternative is a direct response to the work of stakeholders in Oak Park.
Overall, he's glad the transportation group is willing to look outside its initial proposals but couldn't comment on what IDOT will be doing next until he learns more from the presentation Thursday.
For more information on the expressway project, visit eisenhowerexpressway.com.