If you can't push out … push up! That is the direction IDOT will present in their third public presentation, scheduled for early October. Now is the time for Oak Park, and communities neighboring the Ike, to decide whether to push back or cave in!
Given the village mandated that IDOT stay within the bounds of the current expressway "canyon," the IDOT planners have developed a creative way to jam in two-more lanes and extended on-ramps both in Oak Park and the Circle Interchange. Believing that vehicle congestion is actually a problem that can be resolved with mega-highway structures, the public will be exposed to early IDOT ideas, which assume the submissive decline of the residential communities like Oak Park, Forest Park, and Maywood. Most of us welcome the promise of being able to accelerate our travel — even if it may just be 2-3 minutes saved in a rush-hour commute. We know, however, residents also cherish the urban fabric of the communities they live in.
IDOT has self-evaluated the shortlist down to four options, all of which include adding at least one expressway lane in each direction. Despite Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's stated objective to increase the transit share of transportation commuters, all four schemes proposed by IDOT have been modeled to show resulting declines in transit ridership. This challenge has been known for some time, but is conveniently dismissed as planning moves forward.
The express rail easement that was previously designated is now converted to vehicle lanes. In addition, the unique left-lane on/off ramps at Austin and Harlem would now be converted into right-lane two-tier ramps that would fly over the expressway to meet up at a 20-lane (five per side) vehicle and bus intersection gridded with risky pedestrian crossings to dual CTA train stations.
The westbound off-ramp to Austin Boulevard would begin all the way by Central Avenue and provide a sky-bridge past Columbus Park. Below this off-ramp would run the westbound on-ramp from Central Avenue.
If this sounds complicated, that's because it is complicated. It could be considered the dreaded return of stacked roadways that some other regions eventually had the wisdom to destroy.
If you thought protracted transportation negotiation efforts have been successfully stunted, then you may want to take a look for yourself at the upcoming IDOT public meeting in October. Alternatively, each of the region's municipalities — including Oak Park — has been provided with IDOT's proposed initial expressway plans, three-dimensional views, and feel-good conceptual renderings.
Make your own decision: Side with a growing network of expansive expressways that serve the vehicle, or side with the preservation of communities that are served by a balanced network of public transit and vehicle venues.
Your voice and letters (or your silence) will eventually promote or redirect $385 billion transportation dollars that will be spent in the next 25 years.
Next up … where is the RTA?
David Moehring is an Oak Park architect and assistant director of capital programs at the University of Illinois Chicago. He has been involved in the Ike process since 2007 and an invited Corridor Advisory Group attendee since 2010. He has wrote an essay for Wednesday Journal called "Blue Line Extension: the 'Magic Bullet'" in June 2012.