After a near two-month delay, work is set to start on a $9.5 million project that will change the face of Roosevelt Road at Oak Park’s southern edge.

Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero are teaming up on a major upgrade along the auto-dominated stretch with a goal of transforming both the appearance and the perception of the street. Changes include installing decorative streetlights, benches, bike racks and trash bins.

A groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction work was slated for Tuesday afternoon. But the event was canceled on Monday because Gov. Pat Quinn had a scheduling conflict, according to village officials. A revised date for the event was not available by late Tuesday morning.

Work on the project was originally supposed to begin on July 5. But striking construction crews pushed back the start, and Village Planner Craig Failor doesn’t expect improvements to be finished until fall 2011.

“Of course, we’re not going to get as much done this year as we had hoped, because winter is getting closer, but we’ll pick that up at the other end,” he said. “It shouldn’t delay us that much next year.”

Crews started putting up temporary traffic signals last week to allow for rebuilding the sidewalks, according to Village Engineer Jim Budrick. Repairs will start on the south side of Roosevelt, shutting down the parking lanes. The three villages plan to split the project into three separate phrases – starting with Harlem to Oak Park Avenue to be done by November, and then Oak Park to Ridgeland and finally Ridgeland to Austin.

The $9.5 million job is being paid for by way of a $4 million grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, along with another $2 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The remainder of the contract is being split between Berwyn ($1.3 million), Oak Park ($1 million) and Cicero ($250,000).

In its current financial crisis, the state has been slow to pay what it owes state agencies and contractors. But Budrick said he isn’t worried about Illinois’ ability to pony up for its commitments on the Roosevelt Road project. The $4 million grant is federal money,.

Roosevelt has been through a gamut of construction as of late, most recently with a $1.2 million “interim” resurfacing that was completed last September. But the business district hopes to stay a step ahead of any potential harm the upcoming construction might cause to businesses along the stretch, said Paul Zimmermann – an Oak Park resident, president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association and owner of properties on both sides of the street.

The association hopes to open up empty storefronts on Roosevelt for art displays, to hold a celebration to mark the halfway point of construction, and to possibly even stage a “zombie walk” to bring foot traffic to the stretch. They also plan to make it clear to shoppers where they can and can’t park.

“I think everybody is just going to do their best to get people to come on down and let them know that businesses are still open,” Zimmermann said.

Join the discussion on social media!