RF gets $1M for Harlem underpass redo

Federal grant will fund primary engineering work

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The recently announced $4.8 million in federal appropriations earmarked for an engineering study of a possible cap over the Eisenhower Expressway has been the center of local attention lately. But several other long-planned local projects will also be funded as part of the massive $238 billion federal transportation bill signed into law recently.

At a press conference Friday in Bellwood attended by River Forest President Frank Paris and Oak Park Village President David Pope, Congressman Danny K. Davis announced a total of $14 million in grants to eight west suburbs and areas on the west side of Chicago.

River Forest will receive $1 million for engineering work on rebuilding the railroad over pass at Harlem Avenue. While the grant money will go to River Forest, the project has involved Oak Park and Forest Park from its inception, since the structure sits in part of all three municipalities.

River Forest and Forest Park chipped in $10,000 each, Oak Park $20,000 and the state $40,000, for a feasibility study back in 2000. The current grant will allow formal engineering work to begin on plans to widen the structure, which, according to River Forest president Frank Paris, sees 60,000 vehicles pass under it each day. In all, the bridge is expected to cost around $10 million.

Beside the bridge's pass-through height being shorter than the 14 foot IDOT standard, the bridge's overall width and an obstructive center support are considered problematic by local planners.

"You can't drive a car and a truck through at the same time," said Pope.

Progress on several planned improvements is contingent on a more efficient rebuilt over pass, said Paris and Pope.

"A lot of things can't be done due to the condition of that bridge," said Paris.

"The Downtown Oak Park Plan anticipates improvements to the underpass," said Pope.

Besides raising the height, plans call for five traffic lanes, including left turn lanes.

Pope expressed appreciation for Davis' efforts and those of the Illinois Congressional delegation in securing funding for the Ike cap study, saying that they will "help alleviate the environmental impact of I-290 on Oak Park."

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