Oak Park residents collide with IDOT during I-290 meeting

Proposals include widening expressway, shifting ramp location

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Oak Park residents and village trustees clashed with the Illinois Department of Transportation on multiple issues during a special meeting Monday when IDOT presented its case for the potential widening of the Eisenhower Expressway along with moving the left-side Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue interchanges to the right side.

Residents were mostly concerned about environmental impacts and having better options for public transportation. Specifically, residents cared about keeping the Ike out of their backyards.

IDOT presented a draft proposal that included 10 different scenarios, which at a recent meeting were narrowed down to five. Besides the potential widening, other aspects included car pool lanes, express bus lanes, and an extension of the CTA Blue Line.

All options on the table, however, involve adding a lane in either direction.

"Everybody wants to know, what are the limits?" resident Michael Caldwell asked at the meeting. "How far do you want to go beyond the trench? That's what everybody wants to know."

Pete Harmet, IDOT's bureau chief of programming, was the main spokesperson of the evening and said IDOT doesn't plan on going outside the current footprint of the expressway.

The expressway may not get wider, but it may get higher, according to scenarios presented at the meeting. Despite claims that the options would increase safety and mobility, many in attendance weren't convinced.

Harmet said the no-build option that would keep the expressway at three lanes is being used as the standard to compare to when evaluating data, but he said it's the worst-performing option compared with the other 10. Overall, he said this 8-mile stretch of the Ike has roughly 2,000 crashes annually, and the area around Harlem and Austin has the highest crash rating of the entire corridor.

According to national data, Harmet added, a left-side ramp has a 49 percent higher crash rating than a right-side ramp. Other issues with the current ramps, he said, are that they are not within compliance standards when it comes to pedestrian and bike crossings.

Assistant Village Manager Rob Cole said in an interview last week that village staff isn't convinced there's enough data to support IDOT's findings.

"There is no real consensus indicating that left-side ramps are inherently dangerous," he said. "They basically have an encyclopedia-sized argument that they are inherently dangerous, and we don't know if we agree with that. There is a lot of literature that doesn't support that."

Overall, Harmet said a D-level is a decent rating for expressway interchanges when it comes to mobility, community and environment. Harlem has an E rating and Austin falls below that, to an F. Reasons named for the poor rating in the presentation include the amount of crash hotspots, insufficient turn lanes, substandard turning radii, and poor access to transit, among others.

Harmet and a group of IDOT representatives presented detailed sketches of conceptual plans for the expressway, which involved raising the roadway to combat drainage issues, but still sticking within the overall footprint. The details, however, were another point of criticism among the board.

Lueck said it was difficult for trustees or residents to comment on the specifics because the updated drawings were not available prior to the meeting. She questioned how the public could absorb the complex jargon without time to study the materials.

Harmet responded by assuring this was one of many public meetings IDOT plans to offer. He said the public will get periodic updates about progress, including the next public meeting sometime in August.

Resident Jim Kelly referred to IDOT as the "Illinois Department of Automobiles," and accused them of not caring about exploring options except those that back their plans for extensive reconstruction.

Trustee Glen Brewer said he's of the "if you build it, they will come," philosophy, and was among others asking why public transportation wasn't being looked at more seriously.

Harmet said the study is not just about vehicles, and that IDOT will be adding other elements as the study progresses. Trustee Ray Johnson, however, wasn't buying it.

"You can say all of that and I can take you at your word that that is true. The evidence does not say that. The data you're presenting does not say that," Johnson said. "This just doesn't add up to me and it gets more concerning as we get further in the process."

Many residents asked why there wasn't more focus on environmental impact, especially since the name of the presentation was "I-290 Environmental Impact Statement."

Resident Jenny Jocks Stelzer was among the residents who pushed for more dialogue about environmental impact.

"We live and work here — we don't just drive here," Jocks Stelzer said. She emphasized the need for a sustainable outcome, instead of just catering to a current problem. "It's not OK to accept the inevitability that with more cars we need more roads."

Village President David Pope touched on the four guidelines that Oak Park officials have stuck by since 2009 when the latest round of conversations began. Those consist of keeping the roadway out of the trench, increased railway presence for the Blue Line, having more physical linkage from the expressway to Oak Park, keep intersections in the middle of the corridor, and increase physical linkages from the two sides of the village separated by the expressway.

"If we think about this as only Oak Park, we will lose," Pope said. "The things that impact Oak Park also impact our neighbors."

Resident Rick Kuner, co-chairman for the Citizens for Appropriate Transportation, a group that opposes the widening of the expressway, has a master's degree in city planning and was recognized at the meeting for his expertise. Kuner characterized IDOT's plans as bad options from a transportation and environmental standpoint.

He said the costs, which are unknown at this point, won't achieve the benefits IDOT is promising. Instead, he thinks the problems will shift, not be solved.

Lueck homed in on her disappointment with IDOT multiple times, saying late in the meeting that "our community goals are going to be at odds with your overall goals." She emphasized that Oak Park's goal is not to ease traffic through the community but to enhance the quality of life for residents.

"We're much more interested in having an urban transit-based community than transportation scenarios that improve the highway for people who live in Naperville," Lueck said.

The next steps in the timeline call for a more concrete draft alternative by the fall, when there would be time for another public hearing. A final plan is expected to be completed by the spring of 2014. Harmet gave a 2017 time frame for construction to begin if proper funding is available.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 26th, 2012 4:23 PM

@Dan: There's a more fundamental problem apart from the question of adding capacity to solve congestion and improve safety (something that hasn't worked in the past five decades of doing it). That more fundamental problem is that the lane addition IDOT is talking about is not even intended to solve congestion. IDOT has already said that the highway would remain congested for hours each day once their proposed boondoggle is completed.

Dan in Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2012 5:13 PM

Folks, I am confused. It has been supposed that adding lanes won't solve the IKE congestion because more cars will drive on the new lanes, but where will these cars come from? Since there is no car fairy creating additional cars on the road, they must come from the existing surface streets, so there will be fewer cars on VOP streets bypassing the IKE congestion. And this is a bad thing?

OPTA Rider  

Posted: June 19th, 2012 4:27 PM

Trains have been taking non-drivers from Chicago and Oak Park to Lombard since 1848. There are 20 scheduled trains a day from Oak Park to Lombard. Getting to Lombard is not the problem for non-drivers. It's getting around Lombard once you get there. OPTA Blue Line Extension Riders will have the same problem.

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 19th, 2012 1:32 PM

@OPTA Rider: Both Oak Brook and Lombard have long-experienced difficulty in filling service and retail jobs that people with cars are unwilling to drive to. The I-290 corridor features concentrations of low to moderate income people that could benefit greatly from improved transit access to the service and retail employment opportunities that otherwise go unfilled. It is a regional competitiveness issue, not an Oak Park issue. Pay people not to work, or enable them to access gainful employment?

OPTA Rider  

Posted: June 18th, 2012 6:44 PM

Well there you have it Stephen Miller. Oak Park is the center of the universe and the city of 3 million to our east is merely an eastern suburb insufficient for our shopping needs. A Blue Line extension must be built for the masses of Oak Park's high end shoppers clamoring for low end transportation and would be a long overdue start towards making OP the rightful center of the OPTA*'s (*formerly known as CTA) operation rather than a far extreme of two of its spokes.

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 18th, 2012 4:47 PM

@Stephen Miller: IDOT's preferred solution will not solve the problems you cite. As for transit, how easy is it for one to by transit west of Forest Park? Even a relatively short 7 mi trip, let's say, from the Lombard Blue Line to Oak Brook mall. The RTA Travel planner says 71 minutes . . . if the bus is on time. If one needs to transfer one time after that where the bus runs once per hour, then it will take 131 - 191 minutes if the transfer is missed. Yes, going east we're fine. Going west? Not

Stephen Miller from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 15th, 2012 9:24 AM

I'll start this by saying I live safely a mile north of the Ike. But reading the Journal's article and the comments, it is hard to understand exactly what our community thinks it wants. Much of the public voice seems just oppositional. There are quibbles over statistics, but seriously, can there be any doubt that the stretch of I-290 through Oak Park is a choked, accident-prone, energy-abusing monstrosity of an expressway? I hear calls for public transit options, but what exactly is the expectation? We have two, count 'em, two, El lines. We can get to the city, either airport, either ballpark, the museums & Soldier Field, and more, and never need a car. Sure, pick any one IDOT option, and there is plenty to not like about it. We do need a strong voice to be assured local impacts are dealt with. But this is about a nine iron away from just being a cacophony of 'no,' in which Oak Park's opposition was decided first and then was followed by any contrary thought that popped into our heads.


Posted: June 13th, 2012 1:26 PM

OPRFDad--not quite the "opportunity" I was talking about when I commented on the editorial this week, but not far off. We need to figure out what we want, give up the fight, and ask for tons of improvements in return. We could get landscaping, bike racks, tourist signs, an overpass beacon, a tax break for every resident, free ice cream, I dunno what we want...but this is the chance to grab for it. lol


Posted: June 13th, 2012 1:13 PM

An opportunity for the Village to play hardball. You want the lanes? What are you willing to give up to get them. The Village should fight this tooth and nail and extract as much as possible from the western suburbs, the city and the state. This ain't show friends, it's show business.

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:52 AM

"According to national data, Harmet added, a left-side ramp has a 49 percent higher crash rating than a right-side ramp." The data are confounded with other causes. Left-side ramps include Interstate splits, not on/off ramps - not what we're talking about. Also, true left-side ramps tend to occur on the most congested segments of urban Interstate segments - a fact that by itself causes more accidents to occur by them. As the saying goes, "There are lies, damn lies - and statistics."

South of Van Buren from OP  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:35 AM

@Live Near Busy: The point is that all of these changes won't improve 290 traffic! But it's nice to see that you'd throw your neighbors under the bus. The only bright side is that many of us "south of van buren" will just leave town if these expansions occur....

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:27 AM

OK. So IDOT's own analysis highlights the dangers of right-side exit areas, concludes no *real* evidence of left-side hazards, and acknowledges that roadway design changes can only impact some unknown part of 25% of all accident causes. We also know the proposed expansion will not solve congestion, and the so-called Hillside safety improvement, which they now wish to repeat, was an EPIC FAIL. So, the public response is "Yeah, let's do it!" You've got to be kidding!!??

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:23 AM

IDOT reports: "Causative crash factors can be numerous, and generally involve: human factors (including driver error, reaction time, impairment, or other factors); vehicle factors (including its mechanical condition and crash-worthiness); road environment factors (including roadway geometric design, roadside objects, lighting conditions and other factors); natural environmental conditions such as weather or presence/absence of daylight; or a combination of these." Road design?? Some part of 28%

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:15 AM

IDOT analysis of left-side ramp crash data reads in reference to whether crashes can be attributed to left-side ramp design: "The crash data obtained does not pinpoint roadway safety deficiencies that might have contributed to vehicles leaving the roadway or even leaving their lane . . . Again, the crash data obtained does not pinpoint roadway safety deficiencies that might have contributed to these crashes."

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:12 AM

IDOT analysis reports: "In the eastbound direction, the highest spike in crashes occurs in the vicinity of Mannheim Road ... A second high crash spike occurs in relationship to 25th Avenue." The third highest is at First Avenue. All right-side ramp areas. Mannheim exhibits the highest crash spike anywhere in the study area - eastbound or westbound. IDOT said the Hillside Strangler project was to make it safe. Left-side ramp problem???

Live near Busy Through Street from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 11:09 AM

One thing that is often forgotten by my fellow Oak Parkers (and Mr. Pope)is that many drivers take the side streets of Oak Park to avoid the Ike once it goes to three lanes. We have heavy thru-traffic on Jackson, Washington, Chicago, Augusta and Division, all residential streets with schools. So when considering the impact on Oak Park of expanding Ike, please consider those of us who live north of Van Buren. Our children might be alot safer if more drivers stay on 290!

Aging Disgracefully  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 10:01 AM

While I find that the eastbound entrance at Austin is one of life's blessings, there's no question that the lefthand exits are dangerous. Use your heads, people.

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 9:44 AM

@New to OP: Expansion will not make it better, either. That isn't IDOT's plan - they're not proposing enough new lanes to accomplish that. Also, new lanes bring new cars. New cars men more traffic. More traffic means more adverse impacts. Thus, added capacity brings more problems . . .including more congestion. It's not if, but when. When is typically within 3 to 5 years.


Posted: June 13th, 2012 9:40 AM

Doug, there was no mention of shortening the Blue Line, only lengthening...though Bus Rapid Transit & express buses are still in the various scenarios. (Running from Forest Park or a station farther out.) The IDOT rep specifically stated that the reason they don't mention Oak Brook is NOT due to it being off the table but because IDOT found you get 75% of the traffic-related benefit simply by going to Mannheim as the end of the Blue Line.

Just Sayin'  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 9:38 AM

Here's the single greatest problem with adding lanes and/or moving left-side exits to solve the congestion problem: IDOT is not doing it to solve congestion. They know that adding a single lane in each direction and moving the ramps will not make I-290 congestion-free . . . not even close. Don't believe it? Ask them exactly how many lanes are needed to get free-flow traffic during peak periods on I-290. The answer is more than they are planning.

Doug Kittredge from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 9:29 AM

Many good comments and it seems like Oak Park represented it's interests well. Adding my 2 cents - generally more lanes seem to just mean more traffic. I hope the option mentioned earlier in the spring of cutting back the CTA has been abandoned, and the possibility of extending the CTA out to Oak Brook is still under consideration.

Get your head out of the sand from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 9:04 AM

I-290 is almost ALWAYS congested, try coming east from Hillside at 5 pm Sat. night, not exactly "rush hour." It's not if you build it, they will come; it's a better way to deal with traffic that's already there. West access funnels I-290, I-88 and I-294 traffic into only three lanes. Insanity. I love using CTA, but left ramps make Harlem and Austin dangerous access points for riders. Dan and Blue Vinton are right on here.

OP Guy  

Posted: June 13th, 2012 12:42 AM

Do people seriously think that the congestion issue is going to be effectively resolved just by adding an extra lane? That's silly. The Chicago burbs has a car culture. Adding a lane may slice a couple of minutes off, but it may also entice more drivers to use the Ike due to the new "cure", enhancing the initial problem. You need to change the culture of transportation to address the long term effects, not keep building for problems that will only create the same problems. More public transport!

William Roberson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 11:28 PM

I live within view of the 290 ramp at Austin and there haven't been many accidents in the 40 years I've been here. However, entering traffic from the left means I need to check my blind spot to change lanes. Then again, at Austin merging traffic has it's own lane.

Oliver Douglas  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 10:13 PM

Green acres is the place to be Farm living is the life for me Land spreading out, so far and wide Keep Oak Park, just give me that countryside.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 9:28 PM

The pile-up east of the Hillside Strangler is caused by the RR overpass at 25th Avenue. That same overpass is used by CSX RR to get to its freight yard in Franklin Park. Widen that overpass while expanding the IKE to 4 lanes, and the problem is reduced, if not eliminated, as has the Dan Ryan. The CSX Altenheim Subdivision ends at Madison in FP, where the tracks change ownership to CN, leading to the same yard in FP. East of Ferrara Pan there are no other users of the tracks.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 5:04 PM

@New to OP and Kyle. Thanks. I avoid Dan Ryan like the plague and so I was unaware of the improvements - except of course I do recall being on it last summer and "improvements" weren't then obvious to me! But that's just one day. But can we not agree that expanding to 4 west of Austin will bring more traffic at all times - and that eastbound traffic (where they already have 4 lanes) will worsen?

New to OP from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:44 PM

Unfortunately, look at the recent reconstruction of the Dan Ryan. It was always, and I mean always, congested but now even at rush hour still moves. Expansion will NOT make traffic on the Eisenhower worse.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:42 PM

Unfortunately, did you catch any of the discussion last night about the Hillside Strangler...the IDOT rep responded to that very point by saying it was really to fix a merge problem. We can't even manage the expressway we have let alone more...anybody ever sit on 290 while the morons back up traffic because they refuse to get in the correct lane for the Kennedy earlier? Major choke point that could be fixed easily with signs and traffic control devices.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:24 PM

It certainly SOUNDS commonsensical that expanding the Ike from 3-4 lanes will lessen traffic congestion. I have, though, just one question: where has that EVER proven to be true? Kennedy is 4-lanes each way, with "express" - how is that working out? Pick an x-way - ANY x-way - and tell how expansion helped? Did it help with the Hillside strangler? Going east off of Austin is ALWAYS a mess during rush hour. How will the western expansion affect that? Answer - it will make it worse!

Irony Police from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:12 PM

And I find it ironic that the same board that paved over Oak Park's one and only pedestrian space in the name of "traffic flow" is making noise about "quality of life".


Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:07 PM

CDonovan2, I like your thinking...I'm guessing the CTA is less an issue due to smaller train cars. They also discussed the grade needed under current standards to go down & back up for freight in the OP area. But perhaps Ferrara Pan could somehow keep a spur to get their sugar? Does anybody know if IDOT had some of the European techniques considered at any stage? Variable & managed lane speeds or the little popup markers that can narrow lane widths during peak travel to create more lanes?


Posted: June 12th, 2012 4:02 PM

I find it highly ironic that the board members saying "trust us" when it came to the Interfaith project are not ok with "trust us" when it comes to this.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:48 PM

Paul, Joe, and Kyle there has been some discussion on the feasibility of using the CSX tracks. The rep for IDOT mentioned it last night, specifically clearance heights for FREIGHT trains, but what about CTA cars? The option deserves consideration. With regard to Ferrara Pan, a guy who works there said last night that they ship in 1 million lbs of sugar a week by rail. If done by truck that would increase their shipping cost, but perhaps there could be tax incentives granted to offset that cost.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:28 PM

Paul, that was the question in my head after the meeting last night is has anybody pulled CSX in on the plan yet? They talked about clearances & the candy factory moving too much sugar for trucks, but I'm wondering if there is a workaround there. Keep in mind when we're talking about a 4th lane that it WOULD be a thru lane but there is a great possibility it ends up a managed lane of some sort, just FYI for everybody. General purpose is an option, but HOV/HOT etc are in the mix.

paul from oak park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:21 PM

The problem with congestion is not the center ramps. The center ramps are actually preventing North/South Austin and Harlem congestion. Move those ramps and Oak Park will definitely be the loser in all of this. The real problem is the narrowing from 4 lanes to 3. The opportunity to correct the problem lies in the freight train right of way on the south side of the ditch. Change the way the train right of way is set up and we can solve the whole problem without widening the ditch.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:14 PM

Joe, you took the words right out of my mouth. You are accurate on every count.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:02 PM

@Why, you write as if nobody from Oak Park uses the Ike. I am someone who unfortunately commutes to the western burbs for work every day. I find it very frustrating that 290 is almost always backed up, mainly because of Oak Park's left side ramps and the transition from 4 lanes to 3. The horrible traffic on 290 also discourages people from coming to Oak Park, which in turn hurts our local economy.


Posted: June 12th, 2012 3:02 PM

Dan, the question is bigger than that even...assuming the Ike is widened, it has to stay within the current width of the expressway trench to preserve neighborhoods and historic buildings. Plus they're raising the bridge decks and making a more gradual ramp so you have to consider extra light/noise pollution and what kind of wall will be built to keep the neighborhoods sheltered, etc..


Posted: June 12th, 2012 2:43 PM

Sorry, but as an urban planner I feel very confident in stating that widening the Eisenhower to 4 lanes and moving ramps to the safer right side of the highway will not harm Oak Parkers. Reducing congestion will actually improve air quality in Oak Park. I can't count the number of near accidents I've witnessed due to those left side ramps at Austin and especially Harlem. Oak Park thinks regionally when it comes to racial integration. Why not for transportation?

Why is My Quality of Life Less Important than Your Commute Time? from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 1:53 PM

@Blue Vinton: You're right....we Oak Parkers should just roll over and let our quality of life be sacrificed so that people in Naperville and Aurora can have a 2 minute shorter commute. Maybe we should find a way to help the distant suburbs solve their trainstation problems (a 3 year wait for a parking space at the train station in Naperville) so that fewer have to drive.

Blue Vinton  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 1:25 PM

Although I appreciate the concerns of local Oak Park residents, the Ike is not just for residents of Oak Park. Virtually any time of day, the traffic going west on 290 is inevitably slowed to a crawl because of the lanes narrowing from four to three. Doesn't this choking traffic on the Ike produce its own environmental concerns (e.g. more fumes from idling cars stuck in traffic)?

Stephen M. Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 1:16 PM

Disregard my previous question; that information can be found in a previous article on this subject. http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/06-07-2012/IDOT_to_discuss_I-290_interchanges_at_Austin,_Harlem_in_Oak_Park


Posted: June 12th, 2012 1:15 PM

Stephen, they have a lot of reports at www.eisenhowerexpressway.com But the slides they had last night were nice because they weren't buried in reports...I'd maybe watch the archived video on the village website to see Board questions & public comment, too. If you just want to read the text, I'd start with "UPDATED Alternatives Identification and Evaluation Report - May 2012" to see where IDOT is in the process.

Stephen M. Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2012 12:57 PM

I wasn't able to attend the meeting. Are these IDOT drawings/plans available electronically anywhere for us to review?


Posted: June 12th, 2012 12:51 PM

What a thought-provoking discussion last night! Lots of work to do (on all sides) and just wanted to say thank you to the Board members & those who spoke...including IDOT reps. Oak Park was well-represented.

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