The Illinois Department of Transportation is still down to four plans for the I-290 expansion, but who might be performing the work and a timetable were discussed at a meeting Tuesday night hosted by State Senator Kimberly Lightford at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park. 

Lightford introduced the panel, led the meeting and read out questions for the panelists, submitted on index cards by audience members. 

Panelists were Dave Rock president of IHC Construction and chairman of Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association (IRTBA); Thomas Villanova, head of Chicago and Cook County Building Trades; Rick Kuner of Citizens for Appropriate Transportation (CAT); Peter Harmet, bureau chief of programming for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), John Baczek, IDOT’s project and environmental studies section head and Carole Morey, chief planning officer for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). 

Kuner, a regular presenter at I-290 expansion meetings, expressed concern that tolled alternatives and changing the Austin and Harlem ramps from left to right – concepts presented by IDOT – would divert traffic and “create a launching pad for air and noise pollution” on neighboring streets, including during the construction phase. In his presentation, he also objected to the “compact station” concept put forth by the CTA, citing hardship to the more than 70 percent of users of the Austin, Oak Park and Harlem CTA stations who walk or are dropped off. Kuner was also skeptical of IDOT claims that the four alternative expansion plans for the Eisenhower would do much to ease congestion.

Peter Harmet of IDOT stressed the age and general decay of the I-290 stretch, built in 1958 and without concern for bicycles or pedestrians as is the case in 2014. He rejected Kuner’s remarks about capacity, stating the redesign could move “a suburb almost as big as Oak Park” through the 13-mile corridor.

Also in attendance was Colette Lueck, member of the Eisenhower Advisory Committee, an informal group of citizens tracking I-290/Blue Line expansion issues at the invitation of the Oak Park village board.

Oak Park, Lueck said, “has been extremely successful in getting the planners to keep the project to the existing trench.” She characterized the committee’s mission as “to hold IDOT’s feet to the fire.”

 Lueck said after the meeting, “It’s clear they are now choosing between four designs that are physically the same. They only differ in how they are managed. But we have to minimize negative impacts on the community.” Lueck said she feared Columbus Park might be affected by the project. “Design and types of materials are a concern for us too. What will the impact be on our streets? What about using landscaping for soundproofing?”

Trustees from Maywood and Hillside were also in attendance. Also present were a group – complete with hard hats and reflective vests – of young men introduced by Lightford as recent graduates, from her district, of the Transportation Construction Apprenticeship Readiness Training (TCART) program. Several of the questions came from them, and were pointedly about when construction, and thus hiring, would begin. 

Trade union boss Villanova said, “As the economy improves, the U.S. Department of Labor, which controls all our apprenticeships, will instruct us to open them up.” 

But when construction would begin was a question.

“We are probably five to eight years away from actual construction,” IRTBA’s Rock said. “When I win the Eisenhower job,” he joked to laughter, “we will set up a way to get direct employment from us.”

Villanova added, “We don’t want anyone to wait five to eight years to get a job. There are going to be jobs, there are going to be apprenticeship openings. We would be happy to bring TCART graduates in, and openings will be posted on the Chicago Building Trades website.” 

A Broadview resident asked when the project was projected to start. Harmet said “Planning ends in summer of 2015, then it will take 24-36 months to draw up plans” for the final version. “If the money is there, and if there is consensus, it could start in 2018.”

Morley responded to a question about flooding that “drainage is a big concern and we are working on it.” 

To questions about whether adding lanes really reduces congestion, Kuner stated “if you build it they will come”, calling the added lanes “induced demand” that would become congested within six months.

Harmet said, “That was in a cornfield; this is seriously not the case with the Eisenhower.”

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