The Illinois Department of Transportation is, in actuality, the Illinois Department of Roads. This institution of state government builds highways. It’s their mission, their passion, their first and only solution to improving transportation.

That their solution no longer works, and is wrong for communities and the planet, does not deter them from laying down more striped concrete.

That is why news last week that IDOT was climbing into the driver’s seat in planning for the rebuilding of the Eisenhower Expressway a half-decade hence is very bad news. In seizing the initiative, IDOT is muscling out local and regional planning efforts that have been gradually building support from Cook County to DuPage. That approach focuses not on adding traffic lanes but on extending and upgrading public transit options.

Oak Park has a critical interest in this planning because the avowed purpose of the Ike rebuild is to connect the four lanes in the western burbs to the four lanes running east from Austin Boulevard by eliminating the perceived block caused by the three-lane roadway from Oak Park to Bellwood. Simply put, IDOT wants to expand the Ike by two lanes across the breadth of Oak Park. Think what that potentially means to the Maze branch library, the park district’s conservatory, and Rehm Pool. If IDOT wants to standardize interchanges and ditch the center exits at Austin and Harlem, think what impact that will have on Oak Park, Forest Park and in Austin. Columbus Park was great, wasn’t it!

We are certain there are politics at play here. And we want to know exactly how the innovative Cook DuPage Corridor Study planning process being overseen for several years by the Regional Transportation Authority has been derailed for an alleged lack of funding.

This process, heavily influenced by Oak Park leaders, has completed two phases. Now, even with billions of federal stimulus dollars being geysered into transportation improvements, Phase 3 has been killed off for lack of a measly million bucks. Somewhere in all this the shivs are out and they’re slicing commonsense out of the process.

Don’t be confused by the current Eisenhower headlines. Starting next spring, the worn-down buckled-up roadway will be scraped and repaved. That’s a $45 million half-measure. The real news is IDOT’s announcement last week that it is taking the lead in planning the rebuilding of the highway starting, perhaps, in six years, and that it would disregard any previously done planning, i.e., public transit.

This is where the fight must be enjoined. Now. Fiercely.

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