OP gets $4.8M for Ike cap from feds

?Transportation Bill funds go toward engineering study, no funds included for Ike expansion

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

Though Oak Park's hope to one day "cap" the Eisenhower Expressway has drawn both community enthusiasm and skepticism, the idea now appears to have at least grabbed greater attention from Congress, which voted last week to include $4.8 million in the federal transportation bill for further study of the project.

Village Manager Carl Swenson received a phone call from Sen. Barack Obama Friday telling him of the allocation, which will go toward a preliminary engineering study.

That study will be the second of three key studies the village estimates must be completed before the cap can become a reality, Deputy Village Manager Pete Dame said Monday.

In March, the village board accepted a feasibility study, which identified three variations of a cap concept. Ideally, the study suggested, the village should pursue placing a deck atop the entire stretch of expressway that runs through Oak Park, from Harlem Avenue to Austin Boulevard. This would involve re-building and connecting all the expressway overpasses, and could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The report did, however, feature two other less expansive?#34;and less expensive?#34;-options, with the idea being that the size of a cap will largely depend on how much funding the village could get for the project.

Since village hall is still unsure how much outside money Oak Park will ultimately get to pursue construction, Dame said which of the variations the engineering study will focus on is still subject to consideration.

"We would have to get more specific when these funds are used," he said.

"The concept is kind of 'nice pictures, here's what we have in mind.' This is more 'here's the nuts and bolts, we need to build it.' "

No funds for expansion

Any construction of a cap would likely be done concurrent with improvement work to the expressway itself. The village has been hoping, however, that whatever work eventually occurs does not include expansion of the Ike. To that end, Dame said the village is also pleased that any funding for expansion was left out of the transportation bill. Any re-do of the expressway isn't likely to occur for another 6-10 years at least.

At a board meeting Monday, Swenson thanked legislators who helped secure the funding. Rep. Danny Davis worked to get $800,000 for the study put in the house bill, while Obama and Senator Dick Durbin added another $4 million to the complete bill, which is expected to be signed by President Bush.

"Our efforts have obviously paid off," Swenson said, noting that the "Oak Park Cap" has now been formally recognized as a specific transportation project.

As presented in the feasibility study, the ideal full-length cap would feature expanding Barrie and Rehm parks, an "urban" arboretum, an "art and environment center" between Clarence and Wesley Avenues, mixed-use development between Euclid and Kenilworth avenues, and townhomes between Ridgeland and Highland avenues, among others.

One of the less expensive options, expected to cost roughly $464 million, calls for combined bridges/caps from Taylor to Lombard (adjacent to Barrie Park), from Gunderson to East Avenue (adjacent to Rehm Park) and a partial capping of 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.

The report suggested it's likely that a cap would be 80-90 percent funded from outside sources.

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.

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