The intersection of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue – a portion of the wider Lake Street Improvement Project – will undergo sewer and utility upgrades faster and earlier than planned. Due to reduced traffic levels and closed businesses as a result of the statewide “stay-at-home” order issued to prevent further spread of COVID-19, the village of Oak Park has condensed the timeframe for the work.
“Everything has changed in recent weeks due to COVID-19 and this project is no different,” said Jim Prescott of Prescott Group, the firm handling project communications.
The intersection will close at 5 a.m., April 1 with construction expected to last seven to 10 days.
An emailed update sent March 30 via the project’s website, BetterLakeStreet.com, stated the intersection would close as early as March 31.
“Logistics and mobilization of signage, equipment, et cetera, has pushed closure to 5 a.m. Wednesday, [April 1],” Prescott said.
The one-day delay makes little difference, considering the original construction schedule called for multi-stage closures of the intersection beginning April 13 with work carried out over a period of four weeks.
Now, two to three crews will work simultaneously, instead of one crew in sections, to complete improvements to the intersection within seven to 10 days, according to Prescott.
The village and project managers made the decision to compress the construction schedule to mitigate impact and inconvenience.
“I am extremely excited about it. I think it was a very smart decision,” said Anne Pezalla, president of the Hemingway District Business Association and co-owner of the athletic boutique Lively, 109 N. Oak Park Ave.
While Pezalla has yet to speak with any of the other business owners within the Hemingway District, which extends along Oak Park Avenue from Lake Street to Pleasant Street, she believes carrying out construction sooner while most businesses are closed makes perfect sense.
“I love the idea of doubling up on the work, going really hard,” Pezalla said. “Nobody’s driving. Nobody’s walking. Most of the retail businesses are shuttered. I know it’s going to be a pain, but if we can do it now, then when we reopen, hopefully in a couple months, the parking and the traffic will be a lot better.”
Jim August, co-owner of the Irish Shop, 100 N. Oak Park Ave., and former Hemingway District Business Association president, feels similarly to his successor, if not quite so enthusiastically.
“Let’s get it done; get it out of the way,” said August. “It’ll be disruptive, but it can’t be any more disruptive than what coronavirus is doing to small businesses all over the country.”
August called it “dumb luck” that the planned Lake Street renovations coincided with the COVID-19-related temporary business closures.
“The impact that [construction’s] going to have at this particular point is to our advantage as a business district because we’re mandated to be closed,” August said. “We’re getting hurt by COVID-19 anyway.”
August believes that essential businesses, such as restaurants, will probably be affected more by the full closure of the intersection because it will make travel difficult for customers.
“I feel for the restaurants. They’re doing curbside pick-up,” said August. “Hopefully they’re going to be OK.”
August hopes people continue to place curb-side pick-up orders from restaurants along Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue.
“I’m hoping people are supporting local restaurants that way because without that there’s not a lot of good news for them,” he said. “COVID-19 – it’s not good for anyone.”