Aiming high, village likes Ike cap

Project is 7-10 years and $1.5 billion away, linked to Ike redo

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

Realizing the grand vision of acres of park land, winding bike baths, an arboretum, town homes and the South Oak Park Avenue business district spreading atop the dingy Eisenhower Expressway is at least seven to 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars away.

But with the road to capping the Ike longâ€"involving studies upon studies and persistent lobbying effortsâ€"a feasibility report presented Monday marks completion of at least one key baby step.

The concept for capping the expressway presented by village-hired consultants and the Cap the Ike Citizen Committee hasn't changed since it was first unveiled in January.

At a village board study session, a clear message was sent to trustees that they should pursue covering as much of the Eisenhower as possible. Of the three "variations" on the preferred concept for capping the Ike, the report identifies a complete cover, from the Harlem Avenue through Austin Boulevard bridges, as the top choice.

That option includes, among other features, expanding Barrie and Rehm parks, an "urban" arboretum and "art and environment center" between Clarence and Wesley Avenues, mixed use development between Euclid and Kenilworth Avenues, and town homes between Ridgeland and Highland Avenues.

The complete cap also carries the staggering price tag of approximately $1.5 billion. That does not include the estimated cost of $50 million to improve CTA stations. Maintenance of the full cap, which would likely include a ventilation system and air scrubbing system that is rarely used in the world, could reach roughly $3 million annually. Additionally there could be a $1 million annual expense for monitoring conditions inside the tunnel that would be created by a cap.

Though the price tag is hefty, committee members said it's likely that a cap would be 80-90 percent funded from outside sources. For example, 90 percent of the $1.6 billion cost of a 7-mile cap in Mercer Island, Wash., came from the federal government.

Two cheaper options are also included in the report. A plan costing roughly $464 million would
build combined bridges/caps from Taylor to Lombard (adjacent to Barrie Park), from Gunderson to East Avenue (adjacent to Rehm Park) and partially cap the stretch from Euclid to Home.

A similar plan that would, in addition, call for covering the Ike from Euclid to East Avenues, would come in at about $699 million.

The cost analyses of all three proposals do not account for any revenue that would be generated by economic development atop the deck.

Regardless of what Oak Park is able to negotiate for in terms of a cap, just the cost of reconstructing the Eisenhower, which is currently under consideration by the Illinois Department of Transportation, would be $800 million. To expand the Ike, which IDOT is also looking at, but Oak Park opposes, would cost $1 billion.

Possibly as soon as its next board meeting on Monday, trustees are expected to vote on a committee recommendation to "establish the cap concept as a policy goal."

At a village board study session this week, trustees indicated they would support the cap the Ike concept.

"This is such an exciting thing, to be able to connect the community and get some of the things back we lost 50 years ago," said Trustee Diana Carpenter.

Though he has been a skeptic of capping the Ike in the past, Trustee Robert Milstein also said he would vote to adopt the concept as policy.

"I think it's important to have ideas and dreams," he said, though he added that he has concerns about securing federal funding. "I'd like a Porsche, but I can only afford a Saturn right now."

If the board decides to pursue capping the Ike, the committee recommended the village conduct several additional studies. Specifically, the village will have to complete a traffic and air quality technology study, as well as detailed engineering plans. In addition, a number of entities own the "air" above the expressway, and Oak Park will have to negotiate for the rights to build in that air.

The village has already secured a $1 million federal grant that could be put toward those efforts.

Construction of any cap would likely take place in conjunction with reconstruction of the expressway itself. As part of that work, the bridges over the Ike would have to replaced, even if a cap were not contemplated.

Work on the Eisenhower is not included in the most recent federal transportation plan, meaning any reconstruction would not take place for between seven and 10 years.
CONTACT: kgrayson@wjinc.com

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