The ballots are out to the tiny little number of Oak Parkers deemed sufficiently deafened by the roar of the Ike to have a say in whether 17-foot-tall noise walls ought to be constructed adjacent to their neighborhoods when the highway is eventually rebuilt.
For several weeks, it seemed Oak Park’s village government was going to stick to its mantra of peaceful partnership with the planners from the Illinois Department of Transportation and let them hold their federally mandated little election as the sole means of determining if these concrete barriers were going to be erected.
Suddenly, late last week Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb rallied, proclaimed his opposition to the walls, implied that a majority of his village board agreed with his objections, and told the Journal that he had called his buds at IDOT and told them he was stepping away from his “it’s your highway so long as you keep it in the ditch” planning approach.
Abu-Taleb, who lives within a block of the Ike himself, said he had recently started to plot his morning run along the Eisenhower and was having a hard time imagining giant, ugly concrete walls towering over him. That stronger opposition has begun to be voiced both by immediate Ike neighbors and a wider group of residents who believe the walls would be an impermeable barrier between north and south Oak Park and that may have also influenced his decision to speak strongly against the walls.
His points, and ours, are these:
Such a permanent, scarring disruption to the landscape needs to be decided by elected officials who represent all of the village.
A one-size, 17-foot-tall concrete wall may not be necessary or appropriate for the entire 3-mile stretch back and forth from Austin to Harlem. With plans already in place to drop the highway an additional 8 feet, perhaps the current walls are adequate. Perhaps higher walls are needed as the new exit ramps rise higher and closer to residents near Harlem and Austin.
Concrete might not be the best building material. Transparent walls have been constructed in other places. Who knows what the best materials and design will be in five, seven, 10 years or whenever it is that the Feds come up with the cash for the project.
The initial vote seems to be underway. It is uncertain if enough ballots will be returned in each geographic segment of the Ike to make the first round binding. But we’d urge IDOT, village officials and neighbors of the Ike to slow down and think more broadly and creatively about the possibilities.