Harmon calls Eisenhower ditch Oak Park's 'ugly scar'

State senator, transportation officials answer I-290 expansion questions

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By Amy Malina

Contributing Reporter

State Senator Don Harmon said he remembered hearing stories as a child about people who lost their homes as a result of the Eisenhower Expressway being built.

"I was the only kid in Oak Park who had nightmares about eminent domain," Harmon said, drawing laughs from an audience of about 150 people at the I-290 town hall forum Tuesday.

He said the current plans to reconstruct the aging roadway don't suggest that fear will come again.

Harmon's remarks were part of a public meeting he hosted at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, intended to show area residents the four possible plans for reconstructing the Ike and updating — also possibly extending — the CTA Blue Line. The evening also allowed for questions to be asked about the project.

Harmon introduced a panel of planners, including Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, Illinois Department of Transportation Planning Chief Pete Harmet and Michael McLaughlin, vice president of planning and federal affairs for the Chicago Transit Authority. Collectively they answered roughly 30 questions submitted in writing from audience members.

Harmon called the existing ditch that contains the expressway and the Blue Line tracks "an ugly scar the separates the two parts of our village," and gave reassurance about the project's future.

"Ten years ago, it was not at all clear that the Ike would remain in the footprint of the ditch," he said. "I think that victory has been secured, and that's a good thing."

Several audience members asked why the Blue Line could not simply be renovated and extended west without waiting for the revamp of the Ike. Their questions were met with applause. According to McLaughlin, such an approach would cost significantly more than remodeling the two modes of transit together.

When asked which of the four plans the agencies favor, Schneider denied having a preference, and insisted the process, including public commentary, had to play out before determining the best route.

A question was asked about if the Oak Park Conservatory, which borders the expressway, would be endangered, but Harmet said it would not.

"Staying within the right of way is an absolute must," he said.

Cost of the project was a main talking point, and according to McLaughlin, the best way to estimate such a massive plan is to look at the similar Dan Ryan Expressway project, which cost around $426 million. Some reports, however, have suggested the Ike reconstruction could cost upward of a billion dollars.

Several people were concerned with how traffic congestion is measured, and what reductions could be expected under any of the plans. Schneider said approximately 200,000 vehicles use the Ike daily. Harmet added that a ten-year projection estimated a seven-percent increase in that number, and said congestion is expected to be relieved enough to increase average travel speeds from the current 25 mph to 50 mph.

McLaughlin said express buses and using the shoulder of the expressway are an important part of IDOT's discussions with PACE during the project's planning stages.

"We are very interested in expanding 'bus on shoulder' and see it as a very valuable service," Schneider added.

When asked how "environmental justice" was being addressed in the planning, Schneider pointed out that it is part of the Environmental Impact Statement process. Harmet reminded the group that the future of the expressway affects everyone who lives or travels on the roadway.

"The Ike serves everybody," he said. "If it falls apart, it has an impact on all communities, including low-income."

One woman wanted to know whether soundproof barriers would be erected during construction of the exit ramps. Ramp congestion, according to Harmet, could be controlled by better timing of lights, which he said would enhance pedestrian safety as well.

The height of on- and off-ramps was another audience concern. Harmet, an engineer, said "we are working on pushing those ramps as far as we can" to limit noise and preserve air quality.

When asked about bicycle paths and safety for riders, McLaughlin said when the CTA remodels it will add bike parking and bike racks, both inside and outside the stations.

IDOT has extended the date to receive public comment by to Nov. 7. To view the four plans, or to comment, visit the project's website at eisenhowerexpressway.com.

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Blue Line Sucks  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:38 PM

Where is Bruce to tell us all how great the Blue Line is after some sleeping goof ran a train up the escalator at O'Hare?

Blue Line Sucks  

Posted: December 16th, 2013 1:50 PM

@BS: Now you are an OBL Truther? Hilarious. Bet you think 9/11 was a False Flag operation too. This just keeps getting better every time you respond. What else they telling you at Counterpunch.org? Give me whatever you are smoking. Must be some bubonic chronic.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:45 PM

Bluelinesucks: You can use some manners. How do you know they even caught OBL? Even Eichmann who was probably responsible for more deaths than OBL was brought to justice and given a trial. His defense "I only followed orders" could not be used by OBL. Hundreds of billions of dollars to catch OBL? More innocent folks have died in Afghanistan than all the "bad guys".

Blue Line Sucks  

Posted: November 11th, 2013 10:48 AM

@BS: If it were Oak Parkers who stole the phones, I would refer to them as "delusional Oak Parkers" since most people here are as delusional as you are. So yes, I would refer to them in a derisive manner. The Afghan war? While you may not be, I am personally glad scumbag OBL is dead because he was flushed out of his safe haven in Afghanistan. Also, don't blame Washington for local CTA decisions. Just stop typing, as all you do is embarrass yourself with each post.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2013 9:34 AM

Not ignoring safety issues on the BL. In fact take the money we spend on wars and put a security guard, hired from the west side, at every station on the BL. I'm sure this would cost less than the $8 million per year that Oak Parkers are taxed for the Afghan war alone, which iis partially being fought for oil to run those cars on the Ike. Take a part of Chicago's share of their $400 million per year and upgrade and extend the BL.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2013 8:26 AM

If your phone was snatched at Oak Park Avenue on the BL would you refer to Oak Parkers in a derisive manner? For a guy who won't man up to his name you know for sure that a "westsider" was involved in the 2 crimes. There are plenty of folks coming into the west side from places like Naperville to commit crimes. Just ask the OP police how many come in to buy drugs.

Blue Line Sucks  

Posted: November 4th, 2013 11:37 AM

@BS: What does eating lunch on the West Side have to do with those scumbags on the West Side that resort to theft while on the BL (besides estab. your "street cred")? As you have no retort to my BL criticisms, you allege racism? Classic. But if it helps your self-esteem issues, have at it. Fact is, I was on train last week where a woman's phone was snatched at Pulaski. I know another woman whose phone was snatched while traversing the West Side. Ignoring safety issues on the BL does no good.

Bruce Samuels from Oak park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 5:11 PM

BLS: Just had lunch at McArthur's on the west side on Madison, a better restaurant than exists for the entire mile from Austin to Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park. I think your racism interferes with your logic. The Blue Line is not responsible for an economic depression on the west side and if anything decreases its effects. What's ugly is your attitude and your hiding behind a nom de plume.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 3:35 PM

BLS: Just had lunch at McArthur's on the west side on Madison, a better restaurant than exists for the entire mile from Austin to Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park. I think your racism interferes with your logic. The Blue Line is not responsible for an economic depression on the west side and if anything decreases its effects. What's ugly is your attitude and your hiding behind a nom de plume.

OP Expat from Elmhurst  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:59 PM

I have never seen an expressway exit on the left side - not to mention an on-ramp merging into the "fast lane" of 290 (good luck if you have to exit any time soon in that situation). Further complicated is the fact that at the top of the Harlem exit ramp, BOTH sides of traffic are facing each other and must simultaneously merge going north. Clean this up to make it just like every other set of exits in Chicagoland and I will stop driving through OP to avoid a complete stop on 290. Deal?


Posted: November 1st, 2013 2:45 PM

@BLS-The CTA is aware the existing B L is at the end of its useful life and has recommended a "complete reconstruction and modernization." They have presented plans to rebuild the existing line. Any expansion is a separate project and is secondary to the existing line rebuild.

Blue Line Sucks  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 2:28 PM

Want to know what is ugly? Taking a ride on the Blue Line these days. From Ventra to scumbag West Siders stealing phones to numerous slow zones between OP and downtown, it is 100% garbage. What is the point of extending this mess to Maywood? Until they decide to scrap the whole thing and replace it with bullet trains, they are doing nothing but throwing good money after bad. Been riding for 10 years from OP and I have had it. At this point I am researching parking garage costs. Widen the Ike!

Randy from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 12:10 PM

My father bought our house 50 years ago near Austin and Harrison primarily because of the public transit - 91 Bus and B-Line (Mother didn't drive then and I don't drive now) . But shouldn't a $1 billion mega-project embody a real Vision beyond just slightly nicer commute?? Let's make the new IKE Chicago's "Main Street" - an economic engine, a dense corridor, a garden district (human interaction not drugs). Rahm should seize on this - and also the Village leaders.

Paul from S. Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:53 AM

Dan L, when you don't puff yourself up and flaunt your, um, credentials, it's actually enjoyable to read your comments. I agree that the Ike is an asset. With 7 bridges over it, 5 of them providing a very safe crossing, there is total access to each side. Growing up here, we crossed over the Ike all the time and really liked the "big highway." It's actually not a "scar," but I appreciate what Sen. Harmon is doing.

Randy Rankin from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 5:05 PM

Hi Bruce Samuels - I'm glad you like some of the ideas. - I posted complete humility. Many of you obviously know much more. But I wouldn't mind brainstorming. I am traveling but could sit downl Nov 7/8/9. Email: randy1651@gmail.com FYI, I grew up in OP and watched the Ike being built - I would ride to the site on my Schwinn bike and play in the piles of sand. I remember the "Garfield Park" line was an elevated structure back then. Let me know.

Lake street area neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 10:44 AM

As someone living closer to the Lake Street EL, I have complete sympathy regarding the damaging impact this could have in the South Oak Park area. On the other hand, if it cut down on a lot of the drivers who speed through Oak Park to avoid the jam ups, that would be a positive to people living near Washington, Lake, Chicago, Division, etc. And that would be a benefit for our children.


Posted: October 31st, 2013 10:32 AM

Let's keep the war and healthcare politics out of this discussion. We currently have an inefficient corridor. We need to optimize that space...more lanes, smaller CSX footprint, etc. The ditch is ugly, but IDOT has committed to stay in that ditch. Sure, we do need more discussion on the proposed ramps and their impact to the surrounding areas. But what's been proposed is a helluva lot better than what we have today.

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 10:09 AM

It's kind of ironic to see all the negative comments about the Ike, given that the Eisenhower Expressway is one of the many factors that has maintained the demand for housing in Oak Park among all races -- enabling Oak Park to achieve stable racial integration. Public transit can effectively serve a fraction of those who must get from place to place. Efficient highways play a key role that cannot be ignored.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 9:39 AM

Randy is totally right. Want to help organize a meeting re all your ideas? 545 is totally wrong. Folks know I'm not a fan of the D's nor this administration, but for all the faults of ACA it is infinitely better than doing nothing. I worked at helping folks get insurance and I can tell you that individual coverage was a joke. There were hardly any laws protecting you from the mercy of the insurance companies. Single payer would have been better but doing nothing would have been a disaster.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 9:18 AM

Eric is right, we owe a huge debt to the West Side Greens who organized a meeting in 2002 when the Village wouldn't let Rick speak to a commission about the Ike. That meeting was attended by 70 folks who organized Citizens for Appropriate Transportation and a 300 person meeting at Ascension. Many in the audience were at that meeting and some are part of a steering committee of CAT. In fact CAT still exists and there is $750 in the treasury. Should we organize a people's meeting?

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 9:05 AM

Bruce, you're on to something. What should be done is defund, repeal, & replace the new, onerous, unsustainable, & unworkable "Affordable" Care Act. That will leave trillions of $$ to fix roads & bridges, & keep the fed govt in areas in which it should be involved, i.e. infrastructure. The ACA will be infinitely more costly that both the Iraq & Afghanistan wars, both in dollars and lives. I like the way you think on this.

Randy from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 9:03 AM

This is sad. This project lacks any imagination. They just want to build in 2013 the expressway they should have built in 1958. And when congestion is alleviated, more cars will come - 200,000 cars each day now? - how many when road is widened? More life threatening pollution The B Line should be configured into several branches for max reach and there should be a new north south beltway train linking OHare to greens, blue, orange, red ... stop making downtown Chi center of everything

Eric Davis from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 7:33 AM

We need to pause to give credit where it's due. The meeting was a huge success; it showed that an engaged populace can educate itself, identify its true priorities, and enlist good lawmakers in supporting that direction. I've dealt w/IDOT on projects in all modes over the years. Getting them to commit to not widening the trench and include the Blue Line extension is huge. We're not done, but RIck Kuner and so many of our other neighbors are heroes, and so is Sen. Harmon. It took a village.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 1:33 AM

Where will the $ come from? Cost of war in Afghanistan: $670 billion since 2001 or over $51 billion per year. Oak Park's share of this is ~$8 million/year, assuming OP has 1/6500th of the nation's population. So, if the war is stopped, then OP should save $8 million in taxes or this $ can go to enhancing the B Line. Take Chicago's share ($400 million) and all the western suburbs and it comes to well over half a billion dollars/year, which is enough to get the project going.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park   

Posted: October 31st, 2013 12:50 AM

Everyone here has made thoughtful comments, especially about the Blue Line. Where there is political will there will be funding. Let's take a lesson from history: Over 20 years ago the CTA proposed tearing down the Lake Street El. The public formed the Lake Street El Coalition, and the C of C and the Village all joined forces. Result: Somehow over $300 million dollars was found to rebuild the line and ridership increased. The B Line needs not only extension but quality improvements.

Marion from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 10:33 PM

The CTA has been operating under capacity (as much as 40%) for years and at the same time we have such congestion on the Ike. What does that tell us? What makes more sense- to improve the existing CTA line or to extend it? Will extending it solve the ridership problem? Is it plausible that improving the existing CTA facility could improve ridership? Certainly another lane will have plenty of use- and may reduce the traffic on the arterials---the stealth 'extra lanes. And that is a plus!

Michael Baldwin from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 10:27 PM

He statements of staying within the ditch are misleading. If you walk along Lexington or Jackson from Harlem to Oak Park Avenue, you will notice a significant difference in volume due to the height of the traffic on the ramps. The new plans bring traffic up to neighborhood street heights and higher for much greater lengths and this will visibly and audibly damage South Oak Park even more. None of the artist renderings have shown a landscape view instead of Ariel. We need to see that view.


Posted: October 30th, 2013 9:56 PM

@Elis-Keep in mind the ENTIRE corridor needs to be completely rebuilt...highway, bridges...even the CTA tracks.To undertake this massive rebuild and keep the SAME configuration would be extremely futile and short-sighted. The added lanes will reduce the obvious bottlenecks (or at least push them away from OP) and get traffic off our arterials. CTA only has funding to rebuild so far, not expand. But I do think no CTA expansion would be just as short-sighted.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 9:34 PM

Elisabeth, while I sympathize with your sentiment, the fact is that every aspect of the Ike- roadbeds, walls, bridges and their substructures- all are past their engineered life spans and must be replaced. Designed for 50 years, built between 1958-1960. No wiggle room That said, I ardently agree the CTA and other officials must find a way to extend Blue Line service at least into Maywood, and better yet Bellwood.

Elisabeth Muhlenberg from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 8:54 PM

Secretary Schneider said in her opening remarks that we could not "pave our way out of congestion". Therefore, I made the comment that the four alternatives IDOT is proposing do exactly that. I asked why IDOT did not have an alternative that paved the existing roadway and used the bulk of the funds for extending the Blue Line. Sen. Harmon read only my question and left out the comment that preceded it - failing to point out IDOT's double talk.

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