First reported 12/14/2009 4:03 p.m.

Efforts by three local municipalities to transform Roosevelt Road just got a big boost – almost $7 million in state and federal money.

Oak Park has been working for years with Berwyn and Cicero, its two southern neighbors, to spruce up Roosevelt, the east-west commercial corridor they share between Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue. To beautify the street and make it pedestrian friendly, the three communities have been looking for about $9 million.

The Village of Oak Park announced Monday morning that it has received a written commitment from the Illinois Department of Transportation for almost $7 million in state and federal funds toward the project. The remaining costs will be split among the three communities, with Oak Park paying half because it covers the entire stretch of Roosevelt Road.

Village President David Pope called IDOT’s commitment “huge” for the Roosevelt project. Without it, Pope said, the three communities likely wouldn’t have been able to afford the hefty price tag.

“If we had not been able to secure this funding, the plan may well have sat on a shelf for a long time,” Pope said by phone Monday night. “In this economy, it would be incredibly challenging, if not impossible, for communities to identify dollars within their own general fund for an investment of this magnitude.”

Work is expected to start in July. Planned improvements include adding decorative street lights, signs, plants, benches and trashcans. The almost $7 million commitment includes, from IDOT, $1.2 million to resurface Roosevelt and $1.8 million for other improvements. IDOT is committing $3.95 million in federal funds for streetscape work and $25,000 for bike signs.

Pope estimated that most work – paving the road, installing curbs, sidewalks and plantings – would wrap up by November of next year. New street lights would likely be installed in the spring of 2011.

Roosevelt’s makeover first got rolling in 2000, when the three municipalities received an Illinois Tomorrow Grant to put together a plan for the redo, which was released in 2003. But the real “game changer,” according to Pope, was when Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2006 to partner on the project. That collaboration helped secure this commitment from IDOT, he said.

The state completed a $1.2 million interim resurfacing of Roosevelt in September to make sure the road is in shape for when crews start repaving the Eisenhower Expressway in the spring. The villages will hold off until the highway work is complete to start the full-blown resurfacing work.

Paul Zimmermann, an Oak Park resident and president of both the Berwyn Development Corporation and the Roosevelt Road Business Association, says the work is long overdue.

“IDOT is really stepping up to the plate and using this money for a project that’s going to benefit three municipalities and be very high-profile,” Zimmermann said Monday. “It will allow people to see this money in action to improve a corridor that has been in a pretty much blighted condition for 10 to 15 years.”

Never-ending construction work on Roosevelt has hurt businesses along the stretch. So Zimmermann says the business association will do whatever is necessary to help limit the impact that the project might have on the neighborhood. They hope to put up banners and hold events on Roosevelt to keep people informed about the project and coming back to the street.

“There is going to be a little bit more pain to go through here, but one of our priorities is to make the construction process as expedited and as painless as it can be,” Zimmermann said. “We’re going to do our darndest to make it as smooth as possible.”

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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