Despite a year full of difficulties, at least one project went according to plan during 2020 – Oak Park’s renovation of Lake Street, which reopened to all traffic as scheduled the day before Thanksgiving. 

“This year’s been a challenging year for everybody with COVID-19,” said Village Engineer Bill McKenna. “Our project fell into that too.”

Dubbed “Better Lake Street”, the project consisted of streetscaping from Harlem Avenue to Euclid Avenue, resurfacing from Euclid to Austin Boulevard, as well as updating underground water and sewer mains on Lake between Grove Avenue and Euclid. Sewer and lining repairs were also made on the stretch of Lake along Euclid to Ridgeland Avenue. Lake Street was also outfitted with new landscaping, lighting and traffic signals.

The pandemic, according to McKenna, brought “a million” changes to the project’s schedule, causing crews to work at different paces at times.

“We had to slow down in some areas to meet the demands and challenges for some of the businesses in the Hemingway District,” said McKenna. “We had to speed up work in other areas.”

Crews began tearing up Lake Street last March with the goal of finishing the entire project by Thanksgiving – a goal basically achieved. While Lake reopened to traffic at the end of last Wednesday, crews were unable to finish some final details due to rainy weather. 

“We’re just kind of wrapping up those little things,” said project manager Brian Racine of TransSystems.

Construction crews will be completing remaining restorative concrete and bluestone work this week, according to Racine.

“It’s a big feather in everyone’s cap to actually conquer all of those unforeseen challenges and still get the project substantially complete,” said Racine.

In addition to staying on schedule, the project is also shaping up to stay within the budget of a total project cost of $15 million.  Not entirely footed by the taxpayers, the project received $3 million in federal funding, as well as a Cook County grant worth $300,000 for its resurfacing portion.

“We’re tracking to be within budget,” said McKenna.

While the Lake Street work itself has taken only about nine months, years have been spent planning the project, beginning in the late 1990s with the creation of Oak Park’s greater downtown master plan. 

“This really goes back basically my whole career,” McKenna said.

With all the challenges 2020 has presented, finishing on schedule and on budget marks something of a feat for Oak Park.

“It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it that with all that planning with all those challenges, that Better Lake Street was delivered on time and on budget,” said project spokesman Jim Prescott of Prescott Group.

Oak Park’s Lake Street work has received recognition from the American Society of Civil Engineers, receiving an award for “Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement.”

Part of what made the project successful were the people involved and the team-oriented approach, according to Racine.

“It was just a great group of people from the contractors all the way up to the village,” said Racine. “No one shied away from really getting in there and getting dirty, solving problems and getting things done.”

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