Oak Park Ave Streetscape Rendering

Oak Park Avenue is set to get a swank upgrade in 2025.

But not too swank.

Village trustees agreed last week that engineers can move forward with design plans if they come in slightly under the most expensive option – the one the steering committee for the project recommended.

That means a final plan will be presented to the trustees for a vote in late November. The cost is estimated to come under the $14.5 million high-end option but above the $11.6 million “medium” option trustees reviewed. So, tasteful yet somewhat economical.

The project will be paid from the village’s capital improvement budget. However, officials also will seek grants for installing permeable parking lanes and rain gardens to align with its climate plan goals.

The business district was last streetscaped in 1984, and since then lights, pavement and other materials have deteriorated. This plan had been scheduled for 2022 but was deferred during the pandemic and to give local businesses a break from recent construction on Lake Street, officials said.

Proposed improvements

Under the project, Oak Park Avenue from Pleasant Street to Ontario – the Hemingway District – will get sweeping renovations designed to respond to climate change and to be art- and resident- focused.

Section 1, which extends from Pleasant Street to North Boulevard is expected to get new curbed planters, paving and parking, as well as new trees and rain garden planters. New trash cans, benches and bike parking are planned. Green walls, or walls covered with plants, are essential elements that will dot the district.

Designers also see the area at South Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue as a public gathering space anchored by a lighted monument and covered bike parking. A fenced-in dining area is intended to be a draw for residents and tourists.

Near the CTA stop, a monument or sign “branding” the area as a business district will be added. The area will be renovated with new viaduct signage and a green wall around the CTA district. 

The under loved South Boulevard area is expected to become a “beloved” pedestrian gathering area. The viaduct will be fixed to make the way better for pedestrians and traffic. Stained glass panels will line the pedestrian route and the roadway could be lowered so trucks don’t hit and destroy new signs and lights.

 At North Boulevard, another green wall is expected to be built. Plans call for seating around the obelisk and for electric charging stations north of the viaduct.

In all, lighting is expected to be key. Uplighting and festoon lighting is likely to be installed all along the corridor for both aesthetics and safety reasons.

Under the plans, Hunter Court could be an “artistic experience” for residents and tourists that features year-round art exhibitions and color-enhancing lights. 

Scoville Park will act as a transition. From there, the design will begin to follow a standard residential aesthetic.

The steering committee had recommended the most expensive option, a $14.5 million concept with high-end bluestone and permeable pavers. Trustees informally approved moving forward with the plans with little debate. Some, however, questioned the durability of materials used while others said they felt more comfortable in a mid-range spending area. 

“I think we should be able to find some savings from that number,” said Bill McKenna, the village’s engineer.

Underground water and sewer line replacements are expected to begin shortly before the project and will run parallel to construction.

Officials estimate all work will begin in the late winter or early spring of 2025 and last through fall.

What about the padlocks?

What won’t go? The viaduct’s padlocks of love, patterned after the famed Parisian tradition where lovers scratch their initials in locks, attach them to a chain-link fence and throw away the key – forever sealing their love in place.

The village plans to save them.

But it’s not clear where they’ll go. 

McKenna said they could be relocated elsewhere or be installed as an art piece.

Love, it seems, can never go too far afield. 

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