More than 200 people, including many from the Oak Park and Forest Park, dropped by a public presentation last Wednesday at the Best Western Hotel in Hillside.

The so-called open house, which lasted four hours, started with an 11-minute video presentation run on a continuous loop, outlining the details in each of the three phases of the IDOT redesign process. Phase 1 is preliminary engineering and environmental studies. Phase 2 will include final design and land acquisition. Phase 3 will be actual construction.

IDOT officials were available in an adjacent banquet room to answer questions. Three long tables featured several 20-foot-long photos of the Eisenhower between Cicero Avenue in Chicago and Mannheim Road in Hillside. Stickie notes were available on the tables for attendees to write out desired elements in the reconstruction and things they did not want to see in the redesign.

IDOT officials said they have made no decisions, and will spend the rest of the fall and winter collecting input on what people think is needed in any I-290 reconstruction, which is expected to happen in about six years. The public is invited to comment at www.eisenhowerexpressway.com/informed. Comments must be received by Dec. 3 to be formally included in the process.

While IDOT officials are characterizing the current study as a “fresh start” – and the first phase of the three-phase process as identifying what the problem is – numerous people in attendance expressed serious doubts that IDOT hadn’t already made up its mind to opt for more road lanes over rapid transit. They also questioned why the now eight-year-old Eisenhower reconstruction planning process, begun with the Cook DuPage Corridor Study, appears to be starting over.

“It’s a concern, because we’ve been working this entire time, and we thought we were making some progress, and now we’re starting all over, and why is that,” said K.C. Paulsen, Oak Park’s new sustainability manager.

“They’re apparently ditching the whole process,” said Ellen Mrazek of Oak Park. “It seems silly to me to start from scratch.”

Mrazek’s friend, Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, also of Oak Park, was more blunt.

“It looks like a farce to me. It’s very hard to convince me that this is an honest attempt to get public opinion and do anything on he basis of it,” Bloyd-Peshkin said.

“I think IDOT is trying to ensure that what they perceive as most important is done,” said the Park District of Oak Park’s Mike Grandy, who lives less than a block from the Eisenhower.

However, Peter E. Harmet, IDOT’s bureau chief of programming, said no decision has been made.

“We’re just trying to define the problem, and we’re not going to define the solutions until we’re in a meeting like this, with people along side us, all the stakeholders who are involved in this,” Harmet said.

Asked about prior comments about IDOT “not being bound by prior studies,” Harmet insisted IDOT will take the work of the Cook DuPage Corridor Study into account.

“That is really to emphasize a fresh start,” he said. “But certainly a lot of great work has been done with the Cook DuPage study, and we’re not going to re-invent that.”

Harmet said public input and technical assessments will be gathered over the winter.

“The stakeholder comments and the technical information get blended together then to come up with that problem statement, kind of an over arching set of goals and objectives – what are the problems – and that kind of sets forth how effective each particular solution might be.”

Oak Park trustee John Hedges said the village would be an active and viable participant in this process. “We have to be very vigilant and careful and make sure our voice is heard on how this plan is going to go forward,” Hedges said. He called it an opportunity to advance mass transportation, rather than building more roads.

“It seems insane right now to be considering widening the expressway and encouraging people to drive their cars,” said Mrazek.

Kevin Brubaker and Rick Kuner of Citizens for Appropriate Transportation, who helped organize opposition to IDOT’s original 2001 Ike expansion plans, responded with an e-mail alert Monday.

“Illinois spent $140 million to fix the Hillside Strangler, yet travel time remained virtually unchanged,” the CAT e-mail said. “If we were to build all the lanes traffic engineers say is necessary to ‘solve’ congestion, the Ike would be 12-14 lanes wide.”

Harmet said that a long-term solution for the road is being sought. “This process in Phase 1 is all about what that reconstruction ought to be,” Harmet said.

“They have a lot of proving to do,” Bloyd-Peshkin said of IDOT.

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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