I write to thank Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and Wednesday Journal for underscoring the significance of the current discussion on noise walls and what these design decisions will ultimately mean for our community.
I have said before that, when first constructed, the Ike became Oak Park’s ugly scar. Perhaps a necessary evil in the economic growth of the Chicago area at that time, the Ike footprint nonetheless imposed a painful division that permanently altered our understanding of our town and how we relate to our neighbors to the north or south of the Ike.
We do not have the luxury to revisit that piece of urban planning history. But I fear these noise walls, as currently suggested, will make this scar even more glaring, certainly more permanent, and more detrimental to the fabric of our community.
I do not want to devalue very legitimate concerns about noise and pollution, nor the ills of construction and traffic congestion, some of which might be hidden behind such walls. I understand why a homeowner might consider higher walls preferable to the current walls, and I also applaud the mayor’s idea of putting up mock walls so that we all know what we are considering. Though we have discussed this project for over a decade, this is perhaps our first true taste of what to expect when the shovel finally hits the dirt.
These walls would constitute a truly drastic turn in the urban planning of our Oak Park, just as significant as the decision to place the highway there in the first place, and would become a key variable of how our future Oak Park is joined, or unfortunately, further divided.
IDOT has explained the transportation and safety necessities of reconstruction. We Oak Parkers should be thrilled that plans allow for the potential expansion of the CTA Blue Line and that the current Ike footprint will extend no further. We also await the modernization of the existing Blue Line.
But if these walls are our first taste of urban planning reality, I urge that we take a long pause and re-circle our wagons. With a multibillion, multifaceted project before us in the next decade, is casting our gaze over the existing “ditch” or staring at a gigantic wall the best and only options we can hope for? This project could just fix our transportation needs, or it could be a transformative moment for Oak Park and our neighbors. Many project planners have secured more creative solutions.
I do not support these walls and I do not want to miss the boat on what might have been. I will be contacting all the mayors, my fellow Illinois senators and representatives and the Congressional delegation that will ultimately secure the lion’s share of the project cost. We have learned to live well with the footprint. Now in making it safer and more efficient, let’s pause to make sure we get the urban planning right this time.
Don Harmon is state senator for the 39th District, which represents Oak Park.