By Anna Lothson
A federal grant totaling more than $1.1 million, awarded to the Village of Oak Park, will help link Oak Park's downtown CTA station with the surrounding retail and commercial area on Marion Street and South Boulevard.
The funds will target the area adjacent to the Green Line station in downtown Oak Park, with improvements running west from Marion Street along South Boulevard to Harlem Avenue. In addition to enhancing the area for surface transportation and pedestrian travel, the grant also will help pay for replacing deteriorated underground infrastructure, some of which dates to the 1800s.
The Transportation, Community and System Preservation Program announced the grant on Aug. 2. The program provides up to 80 percent of the funding for comprehensive initiatives like Oak Park's Transit Gateway project.
"This project will help make Oak Park an even more livable and sustainable community, and I thank President [David] Pope and the entire village board for their leadership," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a news release. "By leveraging federal dollars, Oak Park will attract new private investment and sustainable development that create and retain jobs. This is exciting news for Oak Park, which stands to be a regional model for local revitalization that incorporates transit, walking, biking and economic development."
The $1.1 million grant was part of $363 million announced last week from the office of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Around 1,500 requests totaling $2.5 billion were received, of which the amount actually awarded is a fraction.
Rob Cole, assistant village manager, said the project fits in with Oak Park's commitment to promoting transit options that focus on promoting public transportation and pedestrian-friendly options.
Cole said the grant can help build on the village's previous streetscape projects on South and North Marion streets. It can also help expand the purpose of the enhancement and spur growth in the area. The project, he said, will support the existing infrastructure and helps reduce the overall costs of future streetscape improvements.
Because discussions have been focused statewide on highway transit options, Cole said it's refreshing to see alternatives being invested in. Overall, the project can produce regional and local benefits, Cole said.
"It's really great to see, at least from a policy standpoint, an interest in these types of projects," he said.
Pope agreed, saying the federal transportation officials are increasingly supportive of the type of strategic, transit-supportive reinvestments Oak Park is pursuing.
"The federal government has a direct financial interest in supporting strategies that lead to reinvestment in established, infrastructure-rich communities like Oak Park that often comprise older inner-ring suburban corridors," Pope said. "The alternative of devoting resources singularly to building new highways in ever more remote, low-density areas has been shown over the past several decades to simply perpetuate sprawl, which then creates its own increasing demand for yet more investment."