Giant mural to dress up crumbling viaduct

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By MARTY STEMPNIAK

A huge public painting will likely adorn the entryway to the Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard viaduct this summer. Although the steel and concrete interior of the viaduct will continue to crumble for at least the next 15 years, the village plans cosmetic improvements in 2009.

As part of continuing efforts to install public art around the village, the Public Art Advisory Commission (PAAC) picked an artist earlier this year to paint both sides of the tunnel south of the train tracks. The painting is yet to be named, but the commission chose "poetry of motion" as the theme. Chicago artist Stephan Giannini will create the mural during the summer, at a cost of about $18,000 (which comes from the commission's budget).

But first the village board must approve the contract, likely at its May 5 meeting, Business Services Manager Loretta Daly said.

The commission picked Giannini, who was a finalist in a previous competition to paint the mural on the north side of the Ridgeland Avenue viaduct. The artist came up with three ideas, and the commission helped hone them, said PAAC Chair Nick Bridge.

"We wanted to do something that involved the human figure," Bridge said, "something that ... celebrated movement, athleticism, or dance in some way."

Giannini will do most of the work himself. He expects to start in June or July, and said it will take about two months. When complete, the mural will last 20-30 years, depending on how the structure underneath holds up.

"It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun for an artist," he said.

Viaduct improvements delayed

He'd like to see some improvements to the crumbling concrete and rusting steel under the train lines. However, village officials say that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Oak Park obtained a $575,000 grant from the state last year to improve viaducts at Marion Street and Oak Park Avenue. The village wanted to use the money to improve the steel overhead and the concrete walls, Village Engineer Jim Budrick said. But the state said the grants could not be used to improve the property because it is privately owned by Union Pacific railroad.

So the village is looking at more creative ways to use those funds, Budrick said. Possibilities include installing new lights, adding decorative panels (like one already at Marion), and improving the sidewalks with bike racks and landscaping.

The village originally applied for $2 million and planned to spruce up the Ridgeland viaduct too. The amount received is enough for one viaduct, and will be stretched between the two.

It would've cost about $400,000 to fix the steel and concrete at Oak Park and $200,000 to fix Marion. But Union Pacific, which owns miles of train tracks, does not have plans to fix up the two viaducts in the next 15 years, Budrick said, except in an emergency.

"If you start adding up costs along the whole [train] system, you're talking about some big dollars that would have to be expended," he said.

The village plans to meet with members of both Downtown and the Avenue business districts in the next few months to gather feedback on the viaduct projects. Officials hope to complete designs in the coming months and plan to start construction next year.

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