Oak Park residents living near access roads that run along the Eisenhower Expressway will be asked to vote later this month on a proposal to erect noise-damping walls as part of the state’s highway expansion project.
Some residents, many of whom live near the proposed noise walls but not close enough to vote, say they believe the village should put a halt to the vote and any final decision until residents have more information.
The noise walls, which the village says would stand about 13 to 15 feet tall, are proposed as part of the expansion plan that also moves entry and exit ramps to the outside of the highway, rather than the current configuration, which has the ramps positioned to the inside.
Opponents of the noise walls say the height will be closer to 15-17 feet and that the concrete will make their neighborhoods feel like a prison, among other complaints.
The village acknowledges in a news release that they’re already hearing negative, and positive, responses from residents about the proposed walls.
The village is holding an “open house-style informational event” on Thursday, Nov. 5 at Oak Park Village Hall from 4 to 6 p.m. to answer questions on the project.
“Village government has not advocated how residents should vote in this process,” Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said in the press release. “But we do want to facilitate discussion and informed decision making. The actions of the property owners eligible to vote on noise walls will affect the neighborhoods near the expressway and the entire community for decades to come.”
The vote that residents take is binding and requires that 33 percent of the ballots in each affected area be returned. The village notes that if the 33 percent response is not met, then a second vote will be held.
Peter Harmet, who heads the I-290 expansion management team for IDOT, said those who will get to vote on the wall have been determined to be within close enough proximity to the noise to experience a 5-decibel reduction in noise if they are installed.
Harmet said the noise level for some residents along the Eisenhower already exceed federal guidelines. He said the vote is part of a federal law that allows residents to decide whether they are willing to accept the noise.
Richard Katz, of the 700 block of Clarence Avenue, is not within close enough proximity to the access road to be involved in voting, but residents one block away will have their voices heard, he said.
He said he believes the wall will divide the village visually, creating a greater mental separation between north and south Oak Park.
“Looking at a concrete wall is no different than looking at a concrete prison wall or an industrial barrier in the inner city,” he said, adding that a lot of his neighbors are upset that their properties might lose value if the walls are erected.
Katz said he hopes the Oak Park Board of Trustees “takes control of the situation” and slows down the process. He noted that it could be a decade before the Illinois Department of Transportation begins work on the Oak Park section of the highway expansion project.
“This should be a village-wide decision,” he said, not just for those living within a few feet of the proposed walls.
Fred Brandstrader, of the 1000 block of South Scoville, who has been following the progress of the Ike expansion project, said IDOT and the village are making a mistake in only offering one option and giving voters a choice of yes or no.
“It’s well-documented that there are other ways of treating noise abatement,” he said.
Brandstrader also noted that there is no funding source for the project to date and both IDOT and the Chicago Transit Authority have stated in public meetings that they have no idea when such funds will become available.
“This means they have more than ample time to properly research solutions that not only actually work for their projects but also find solutions the communities their public projects are impacting [would] fully support,” he said in an email he recently sent to nearby residents.
Village Trustee Colette Lueck said at a board meeting last week that the impact of the noise goes beyond those who get to vote on the noise walls. “You can be impacted by the noise but not live in the voting block, and somebody makes that decision for you,” she said.
Lueck, who has worked closely with IDOT and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb on the Ike expansion negotiations, also noted that some blocks could vote in favor of a wall and others not, creating a hodgepodge effect. She said she shares the concern of Oak Parkers who say the walls will “create a greater division between north and south Oak Park.”
Harmet said it is true that the noise walls could be accepted on one block and not the next, depending on how the vote goes.
Village engineer Bill McKenna could not immediately be reached for comment.