Oak Park looks for new ways to influence Eisenhower expansion plans

Historical 'roadblocks' sought for Ike plans

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Oak Park officials have been clear for some time where they stand on any potential expansion of the Eisenhower Expressway: Keep the Ike within its current footprint.

In a recent goal-setting session, village trustees confirmed the group's commitment to staying on top of the issue. This includes ensuring the Illinois Department of Transportation understands how communities like Oak Park feel about the proposed plans that involve possibly adding two lanes in each direction and shifting the center, left-sided exit ramps to the right. Bottom line: they don't like Ike as IDOT envisions its future.

Taking matters into its own hands, Oak Park is looking at what buildings or land could be designated historically relevant so any expansion plan might be effectively prevented. Trustees approved three motions to do just that.

An architectural survey will be conducted along the I-290 Expressway Corridor and staff has been directed to prepare a National Register Determination of Eligibility for the 1000 block of South Harvey Avenue. The final motion appropriates $2,600 to continue using online historical resource survey software to help the village in its efforts.

A proposed Harvey Avenue historical district includes 12 properties known as the Braucher/Duff Development.

"I think all three steps are well advised as this continues and the possibility of the expansion of the Ike is in front of us. … We need to price this on all fronts," said Trustee Bob Tucker at the board's July 1 meeting. He referred to legal and tactical aspects that the village should not ignore.

"You can literally, by doing this, throw up roadblocks," Tucker said.

During the same time that IDOT has been reviewing how to revamp the 1950s-era expressway, which transportation officials suggest has outlived its lifespan, Oak Park has been looking at the historical significance of the land along the Ike. Although not all of IDOT's plans involve expanding the expressway, and plans are still subject to change, trustees agree Oak Park must prepare for any possible outcome.

Although the timing of the request aligns with the current Ike discussions, said Doug Kaarre, Oak Park's historical planner, talks about designating these areas along the corridor have been in the works for years. He explained to the group that federal regulations dictate that any federal dollars being used for projects such as the Eisenhower Expressway expansion must look at the historical significance of the area.

"Survey projects often are a reaction to a perceived or potential threat to those resources; in this particular case, the proposal to expand or alter the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway was the guiding factor for the timing of the project, though it should not detract from the validity of conducting a survey in this area," Kaarre wrote in a report.

But simply committing to work with the Illinois Historical Preservation Commission, as mentioned in one of the approved proposals, can trigger the need for national review. Doing so could throw a kink in IDOT's plans, Kaarre said.

IDOT officials have said during past presentations that they are taking into account any historical relevance, but Oak Park isn't relying on that and has said it's important to review the historical significance on its own.

Research, Kaarre said, revealed that the federal highway process exempts certain restrictions related to the left-sided exit ramps and IDOT's plans, which makes the discussion about any historical relevance of Oak Park's ramps less significant. An agreement between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation exempts the interstate highway system.

The areas surrounding the ramps, however, may play a key role. He emphasized to the board that IDOT's most recent plans "appear they are looking to expand the expressway into the ditch," but he was unsure which areas yet. Plans still do appear to focus on the Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard ramps, which would have significant impact on surrounding areas, Kaarre said.

In his report to the board, Kaare said once an area has been determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, it triggers a review process. This could force IDOT to alter any plans that pose negative impacts to any historic resources.

"If successful, this determination, along with the Hulbert and Hogan Homes subdivision determinations, would provide coverage of historic properties along the entire length of the expressway," according to Kaarre.

Conducting historical surveys for such projects is nothing new for Oak Park. In 2010, according to the planner's report, former Village Manager Tom Barwin requested that the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission look into preservation options for the center exit ramps along the expressway. The village learned that architectural surveys were the most "feasible and effective approach" to understanding what resources would be impacted by an expansion or alteration of the Ike.

According to the report, "This will afford the village the opportunity of providing historic resources with recognition and protection well in advance of any formal plans that may be released by IDOT."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Change This Deadly Design  

Posted: September 10th, 2013 4:21 PM

Last week's deadly wrongway crash on the Eisenhower that killed two is at least in part due to the left lane ramp configuration. It was caused by a driver mistakenly turning left from Harlem onto the exit ramp from the eastbound lanes of the Ike and right into the oncoming traffic. It's surprising this doesn't happen more often. And this is the configuration that special interests in Oak Park are so keen to protect.

Ross Huey from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 16th, 2013 3:06 PM

As a current resident and frequenter of 290 both east and west I am so sick and tired of these board members being completely closed minded and stubborn about this restructuring. Yes, lets just worry about a few hundred people and a few dozen houses and continue to inconvenience 10's of millions of drivers every year. 290 is the mess that it is because of Oak Park's obstructionist ways. And there is nothing historical enough along any of these corridors that it shouldn't meet the wrecking ball to allow for 290 expansion and congestion relief. I wish the state would just give Oak Park and ultimatum; either work with us or we are expanding anyways and removing the Austin and Harlem exits altogether.


Posted: July 15th, 2013 1:36 PM

That "vintage" building was a dump and the Village was made to buy it by nincompoops who swore otherwise and now you have a parking lot. Hip Tip: Shut up and let people do their jobs and perhaps you won't end up with a parking lot in place of development.

The Irony Police  

Posted: July 15th, 2013 12:45 PM

Is this the same village that recently paved over its pedestrian mall to accomodate more automobile traffic and bought and tore down a 1930's vintage office building in the heart of its business district to build a PARKING LOT to encourage more people to drive there? (Just checking.)

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 15th, 2013 8:38 AM

Has anyone considered that that 4th lane might be a green effort. For those of you who believe in "Global Warming" a car traveling at the speed limit is far more efficient and creates less carbon emissions. So- get on the pro expansion team and press for that fourth lane - it is the right thing to do. It also gets those nasty "Non Oak Parkers " in and out of our town in half the time. If we were all as obstructionists, as being suggested, we would still be living in caves and treating women as chattel.

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: July 15th, 2013 1:17 AM

Hopefully, every Oak Park resident knows that Oak Park resisted the original expansion from three to four lanes which is why there is only three lanes now through the Village. This was due to the Village stating that more pollution would affect the town. How very smart! Now, all the traffic is stop and go through the Austin to Harlem section which created more pollution--that showed them who was smart!!


Posted: July 14th, 2013 10:40 PM

@J-It's not just one corridor. The Circle Interchange is being addressed in conjunction with the Ike expansion, which should address some of the issues east of OP. An additional lane will help move traffic west out of our area more quickly and to the I88/I294 corridor and W/NW burbs where it belongs (and then it's their problem). Will there be increased traffic? Perhaps, but the traffic is coming anyway and the current status quo isn't working.

J from OP from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2013 5:15 PM

Oak Park said rail was the best solution, and they were right. Traffic pressure on highways has always increased. That trend will not magically reverse. IDOT is not going to take care of urban traffic frustrations by adding road capacity on this one corridor. It's a fantasy that there is an easy remedy, and IDOT knows what it is doing. Oak Park citizens need to force a real solution.


Posted: July 14th, 2013 4:38 PM

J from OP from Oak Park, as Cindy R said, "Read the article and calm down". IDOT has already committed to staying within the existing trench. If a single house will be lost it sure won't be on the blocks the Village is now targeting for historic preservation. The only gutless thing that is being done is the Village's efforts to obstruct IDOT with such foolish strategies.

J from OP from oak park  

Posted: July 14th, 2013 4:10 PM

Throw up as many road blocks as possible. An expanded IKE will be exactly as jammed up as it is now, just look at what happened to the tri state when it expanded a lane. Allowing outside forces to take your property without a fight is gutless. If you want a relaxing jaunt downtown, move to the city. The west side has a ton of new condos.


Posted: July 14th, 2013 12:28 PM

Cindy R; where does the 1000 block of S. Harvey and the 500 to 800 blocks of Home and Clinton fit into the footprint of the still-to-be-proposed new ramps? Living in the Gunderson district myself, are the residents of these blocks aware of the constraints that will be imposed on them if they are determined to be eligible for historic preservation designation? You can side your house with vinyl but not energy efficient hardiboard; now that is historic. No, this is just obstruction.

Cindy R from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2013 8:50 AM

Read the article and calm down, commenter types. No one is proposing that the center ramps on 290 be preserved. The article says that OP is looking at historic preservation options to maintain the ramps, i.e., preserve buildings in the footprint to proposed new ramps to make it difficult for IDOT to change course. Municipalities do this all the time. You too might support it if it was your home that the state was about to take through eminent domain.

Hank Marquardt from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 14th, 2013 6:39 AM

Yes, I'm sorry but Oak Park is just wrong in this instance. This is a massive regional problem and Oak Park is being nothing but obstructionist ... I live the nightmare daily and would only add that the traffic complaints can easily be lodged *at* us as well. I routinely have to exit at 12/45 and I take Madison East causing traffic through Bellwood, Maywood and Forest Park that wouldn't normally be there Having said that, even though I've been here on and off 40 years, I'll be long gone before this gets fixed, even without Oak Park's obstruction -- this needed to be done 25 years ago (or longer).

Yes, and...?  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 1:55 PM

How is adding, say, a toll carpool lane in each direction going to solve your wait to get on 290 @Harlem? Extra lane or not it's still going to be a mess. Don't kid yourselves.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 1:30 PM

Rush Hour at Jackson and Harlem is an 18 hour a day affair.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 12:17 PM

Going north on harlem is just as bad. You have the left lane blocked by folks going west on the ike and the right lane blocked by those going east. Traffic plays a little dance slipping between the two when it can.

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: July 12th, 2013 10:54 PM

Has anyone driven south on Harlem approaching the Ike during the morning rush? No traffic can go through at times since the left turn lane backs up to the Intersection at Jackson along with the right turn lane. We should really Preserve this Historic interchange--what a joke? Who are these people?

Oak Park Resident  

Posted: July 11th, 2013 12:12 PM

This is ridiculous. The expressway traffic is a permanent jam. The propensity for stasis in this town is amazing. Support the expansion.

North Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 11:38 PM

The Board does not speak for me either. Residents trying to block Ike expansion are simply selfish, thumbing their noses at people in the rest of the region who sit in traffic backed up because the road narrows in OP. To those who think we all should ride bicycles or the Blue Line, if you don't like living in a metropolitan area, move to a small town somewhere. It's heartening to see so many comments supporting expansion.

Susan from Oak park  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 9:59 PM

As a south side Oak Parker, I want to thank the board for looking into innovative ways to stop the IKE expansion. We use the Austin to Garfield to get to our home and rarely is it busy. This is an issue for all oak Parker's and there are so many of us opposed to expansion.


Posted: July 10th, 2013 7:18 PM

But, wait there's more; the Tribune reports that in addition to the 1000 block of S. Harvey, the other blocks that would configure into the "roadblocks" to expanding the number of lanes on the Ike include the 500-800 blocks of Clinton and Home. If, as according to the WJ article the criteria for historic preservation is proximity to the Harlem and Austin ramps, how exactly are any of these nine blocks affected by IDOT's latest proposal? Village funds and staff shouldn't be used for obstruction!

Morty Seinfeld  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 10:48 AM

With all due respect to the folks on 1000 S Harvey, what is the unique characteristics of those homes that require historic designation? Are we just going by subdivisions built by one builder now? If so, I nominate Del Boca Vista Phase 2 for historic designation as well. Use my astronaut pen to sign the petition.

B from OP  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 9:43 AM

There seems to be little disagreement that traffic on the IKE between OP and DT, specifically, westbound traffic, is horrible. It's great to gain a lane at Austin and horrible to lose one at Austin. I've lived here 40 years and have watched the problem get worse and worse. It boggles my mind that OP fights this. I live a block from 290 and fully support an expansion. I also support expansion of the blue line, but not as an alternative to solving the traffic problem on 290.

total joke  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 9:05 AM

i'm a southside oak parker and am FULLY in support of IDOT's plans to revamp the ike. the horrible traffic is a quality of life issue for all of oak park--the smog and pollution created by a constant traffic jam right through our village. something needs to change, and the IDOT has a plan. that the village board--all of whom, i bet, live on the north side of the village--is trying to block them shows how shortsighted they are.

Feeling sorry for IDOT  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 7:36 AM

Between the angry residents forcing IDOT to change Circle Interchange plans and angry bicyclists taking IDOT to task over blocking protected bike lanes in Chicago (which possibly caused a death), IDOT has been taking a beating lately. I think they're learning the hard lesson of being cautious about community support for plans. By the time they get around to the Ike, it's going to be very scaled down.

Dave Coulter  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 7:31 AM

Oak Park - and all towns - should lean on IDOT to better mitigate the noise and pollution. Maybe the Village can get them to build a couple of new roads over the expwy in the deal. Lose the old ramps.

Rail don't play nice  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 7:24 AM

OP's "road blocking" tactics, may cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions more to expand the Ike (traffic is NOT going to get less anytime soon). For the sake of regional traffic flow, and bearing in mind moving the center line is way to costly, due to having to move the Blue Line, IDOT should consider the closure of the 2 dangerous center ramps altogether. This may cost the Board who vote for road blocking their jobs, when OP'ers have to drive through Austin, Maywood etc

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 12:53 AM

Really? The feds know exactly what is going on with these quick historic designations. The Village is really trying to make the ramps historic? What? are you crazy? It is DOT Right of Way! Good luck spinning your wheels with that. IDOT can do what ever it wants with in the trench--It can even go and condemn outside the trench, The Village efforts are futile. Why are we resisting expansion when IDOT says the trench will stay the same? Who likes the existing traffic congestion?


Posted: July 10th, 2013 12:11 AM

Interesting points, Butch. My only disagreement is, I don't believe drivers that get off at Austin- and I'm one of them when I'm unlucky enough to have to travel downtown and back- are looking to "find their way back to the highway using Harlem." I'd bet they are- like me- Oak Park, Forest Park or Maywood folk looking to avoid the jam up starting before Austin. But your points stands, politically incorrect as it is. LOTS of extra traffic in secondary streets, because of low rush hour capacity.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 9th, 2013 11:04 PM

I think historical salvation is swell but don't think it should be used as roadblocks. As a resident my biggest, make that only, concern about the highway issue is, will expansion reduce traffic in Oak Park? The massive increase in traffic during the last decade has the potential to have a negative impact on housing values, retail sales, and infrastructure costs. For instance; additional traffic from drivers' popping off the highway to attempt to lower their travel time is congesting our streets as is the number of drivers not even using the highway to get east/west. As anyone noted the amount of traffic exiting Austin and then using Harrison, Garfield, Jackson, and Madison to find their way back to the highway using Harlem. I am sure that is not the only circumnavigation causing OP congestion. During the many discussion of the highway I have listened to and read about, there has been no mention about Oak Park traffic. So my simple questions are how much will expansion reduce traffic in Oak Park? What is the financial impact on the village if congestion continues to get worse? What steps will the village take to reduce OP traffic if the roadblocks kill expansion?


Posted: July 9th, 2013 10:33 PM

The board doesn't speak for me on this issue, nor do I approve of them approving the expenditure of $2,600 and countless hours of Doug Kaare's time "they don't like Ike as IDOT envisions its future." So they are how "any expansion plans might be effectively prevented" and "throw up roadblocks" and "throw a kink in IDOT's plans." A westbound entry ramp would probably end at Taylor. That and the two extra lanes will all fit in the current trench. See that as a victory and get out of the way!

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