For years, the state has been exploring ways to relieve congestion along the Eisenhower Expressway, everything from an extra lane to extending the CTA Blue Line. Now, apparently, one of the ideas is shortening the rapid transit train, so it would end at Ashland and not make its way through Oak Park.
The notion came up on Monday, as the Oak Park village board discussed the future of Interstate 290. Village officials slammed the idea of shortening the Blue Line, and said Oak Park should speak out as the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) weighs its options.
"It's a pretty amazing concept, considering this was the first freeway in the country that integrated mass transit with new highway development," said Village Manager Tom Barwin. "And the notion of undoing it rather than extending it is probably something that would have a few people turning over in their grave."
IDOT held a public forum back in May, hoping to gather input on future plans to revamp I-290, part of a proposal that was first hatched in 2001. They plan to keep gathering input until 2013. But IDOT has pointed out in the past that the "Eisenhower corridor," first opened in 1960, is antiquated and in dire need of rethinking and repair.
The state doesn't currently have plans to expand the expressway, but they're currently assessing the alternatives, such as extending the Blue Line west.
Rob Cole, assistant village manager for Oak Park, said IDOT first brought up the idea of shortening the Blue Line during a July public meeting. The suggestion would involve stopping the train at Ashland, near the University of Illinois at Chicago, and replacing it with a rapid-transit bus.
Rick Kuner, a transportation planner and former village trustee who has followed the process from the beginning, said the idea "makes no sense." He believes travelers would be less inclined to take public transportation if they have to switch modes en route. IDOT has left a slew of questions unanswered, he added, such as where the bus line would end or where the stations would be located.
"From my point of view, hands down, the worst alternative is one that would eliminate seven or eight Blue Line stations and replace them with bus rapid transit," Kuner said. "There are all kinds of technical flaws with that, let alone economic impacts."
Cole gave a brief presentation to the village board on where things are with improving the Eisenhower corridor. Trustees held off on a detailed discussion of what actions Oak Park should take in relation to I-290, which they plan to do in the coming months.
Still, some board members took shots at the idea of shortening the Blue Line. Trustee Ray Johnson called such an idea "draconian" and questioned whether Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would support it. And Trustee Bob Tucker compared adding more lanes to the highway to the country's obesity problem.
"It seems like it's a tremendous battle to fight this mindset that to combat this weight problem, we just buy bigger pants," Tucker said.
Meanwhile, local groups monitoring IDOT's plans are hosting a meeting from 9 to 11 a.m., Sept. 29, at the Carleton Hotel, 1110 Pleasant St., to talk about the latest developments in the discussion.
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