Forum airs split Ike concerns

Expansion plan finds residents on opposing sides of the road


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Oak Park residents and leaders were in agreement about one thing when it comes to the Illinois Department of Transportation: They're not happy about how the Eisenhower Expressway expansion project has been relayed to the people it impacts most.

Monday evening's meeting, however, brought a mix of opinions about what's wrong with the Ike itself and what should and shouldn't be done to fix the aging highway, where IDOT has pledged to conduct a massive overhaul over the next several years.

The forum, held during a special village board meeting at Irving School, consisted of presentations from Oak Park Assistant Village Manager Rob Cole; Rick Kuner, founder of Citizens for Appropriate Transportation; and a representative from CTA's strategic planning staff. Nineteen people spoke during public comment and an estimated 110 people attended.

Those commenting, regardless of where they stood on whether to expand the number of lanes, remained skeptical, particularly about the lack of options being considered when it comes to tackling a project that's estimated to cost more than a billion dollars.

"How accurate do you think IDOT can be at predicting the Eisenhower to 2030?" Kuner, Oak Park's go-to transportation expert, posed to the audience. He suggested residents take the promises and concepts provided by the transportation group with a "grain of salt," and encouraged them to stay engaged throughout the analysis and planning process.

"We're not seeing the best alternatives from IDOT. If we do nothing, we will get a poor solution," he said. "There are long-term, significant impacts."

Kuner's concerns, some of which were expressed by Cole earlier, focused on the design and height of the ramps that, as proposed, are shifting from the left to the right and could be raised — possibly as high as two-and-a-half or three stories, according to his analysis. Kuner also spoke about the lack of solutions that actually improve congestion, which is consistently cited as the main problem of the Ike, particularly the bottleneck area surrounding Oak Park.

"The four alternatives don't do much to reduce congestion," Kuner said. "They haven't looked at a way of designing ramps that show the highest level ramps at grade level. … It's feasible to look into some new alternatives."

Kuner referenced statistics released by IDOT that show the Eisenhower is congested 17 out of 24 hours a day. The four alternatives only collectively reduce that number to between 16.25 and 16.75 hours a day. IDOT officials have said a final preferred alternative should be identified by late 2014.

"That's not a very good return on investment," Kuner said.

Factors like lane width, shoulder width and the impact on increasing traffic and how it relates to crash frequency were among the criticisms of IDOT's plans Kuner referenced; he also brought up the missing pieces: air quality, noise, social, economic and historical impacts of altering the roadways and ramps.

'Let's keep with them'

Janine Farzin, a CTA strategic planning professional, spoke about the long-term planning study of the Blue Line to reassess and reconsider current conditions. She told residents the group understands the current Blue Line stations are less than ideal for pedestrian use in terms of ease of access and exposure to weather elements.

The CTA's perspective has become particularly relevant since June, when it announced the Blue Line Forest Park Branch Feasibility/Vision Study to assess the needs of the areas between downtown Chicago and Forest Park.

The group of residents who spoke about the expansion project consisted of varying perspectives, some for and some against, with a majority of the speakers being residents who lived near the Ike.

Climate change, environmental and historical change, "capping the Ike," visual and noise pollution, improving pedestrian access and public transportation, safety and the height of the entry and exit ramps were all raised. Some residents encouraged Oak Park to be more receptive to IDOT and work toward finding a more "creative" and cohesive solution; others stressed the need to remind IDOT that many in the community don't want the Ike in their backyard, regardless of their promises to "stay within the ditch."

Trustees spoke briefly toward the end of the meeting, and it was Trustee Ray Johnson who pointed out that "there is more split than before in the community about the expansion."

Johnson said what's important now is providing more clarity about how concerned residents can share their input with IDOT on the record. More convenient meeting times are also needed, Johnson said.

Trustee Peter Barber also recognized the division of people for and against the expansion, and focused his comments toward reviewing the issue from a regional perceptive.

"We also have to recognize our role as a neighbor. Most of us are not driving down the Ike. … How can we try and use whatever solution for our advantage?" he asked.

Trustee Colette Lueck offered another perspective, suggesting Oak Park needs to be cognizant of its own residents in any direction it moves with IDOT's plans. She pointed out the current flaws of the ramp and roadway construction but suggested much more needs to be done before IDOT picks a plan.

"I'm really not clear on why Oak Park would support a plan that would spend a billion dollars," Lueck said, adding that much of the impact and expense could be felt by Oak Park and its residents if not properly executed.

Trustee Adam Salzman jumped on Barber's points about how Oak Park needs to think of the neighbors, too, and ensure all options are vetted before jumping to any conclusion.

"It's not a zero sum game," Salzman said. "This is not an either-or situation."

The evening's comments concluded with President Anan Abu-Taleb who offered an optimistic perspective about what can happen if the community bands together.

"I think we are making headway with IDOT. I think they are looking at us as a serious player," the president said. "Let's keep with them."

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Reader Comments

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Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 8th, 2013 4:10 PM

At a meeting in August, attended by 100 folks, the Village president and a trustee promised to put the living wage ordinance back on the agenda. Tom B requested this..

John murtagh  

Posted: October 8th, 2013 12:07 PM

Bruce - It is called a Binding Question. I am certain that Tom B can tell you all you want to know about it.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 7th, 2013 11:29 PM

The Ike widening issue isn't over yet. Even if your kids are freshmen this project will be held up by processes that include an EIS (environmental impact study) and the settlement of the state's so-called pension crisis.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 7th, 2013 10:19 PM

Huh: If anybody's "clueless" (your term) it's you. The issue that you raised at one point was that elected officials ignored Both Tom B and me. Neither you nor John have proved that point, unless you have created a new meaning for "ignore". Since you raised the issue of the advisory referendum process I'd like you to tell us the different ways that a local referendum can be put on the ballot. I'll bet you're clueless. John: I stand corrected about the sequence of events.


Posted: October 7th, 2013 5:50 PM

You just got served by Mr. Murtaugh and CDonovan2 as the kids say. It is amazing you are clueless about the advisory referendum process given your resume and appointments by illustrious local OP officials (such as Pope and Johnson, I am sure). At this point, I will not worry about your obstructionism as IDOT and state legislators do not appear to be taking your hooey (is that better?) seriously. Hopefully the project will be finished by time the kids finish school and I move west....

john murtagh  

Posted: October 7th, 2013 11:55 AM

Bruce, the public vote was ADVISORY. The commission vote was a RECOMMENDATION. The commission vote was to submit a majority recommendation to the village board. A minority Recommendation was also submitted to the board. The board is the SOLE decider on village ordinances. They chose not to make LW law. The board's vote against a Living Wage Ordinance took place six months after I resigned from the Community Relations Commission.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 6th, 2013 9:10 PM

Gee John, thanks for proving my point that elected officials did not ignore Tom B. They may have disagreed. Since you so carefully went thru the history you left out some facts: The supermajority of the commission you headed rejected your stance, then sent the issue to the Village Board. Then you quit. Oak Park spent more money hiring lawyers to fight with District 200 than the LW would have cost for several years.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 6th, 2013 1:32 PM

Bruce - The elected officials that put the Living Wage Ordinance on the ballot was Cook County election official. It was Oak Park Township that voted to put the referendum on the ballot. That was done at OPT annual open meeting when any resident can put an issue up for vote and all residents present can vote on it. Tom and his team brought enough supporters to the OPT open meeting to get it on the ballot via Cook County. Worth remembering is that an ADVISORY vote was approved by OPT and Cook County. That is; it had no standing as law. The OPV Board studied the issue and decided not to approve the LW Ordinance.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 6th, 2013 7:12 AM

Huh? I guess you forgot that Tom's Living Wage Ordinance was put on the ballot by elected officials and received a majority of the vote. I was also appointed to the Green Line Task Force when the CTA was contemplating tearing it down. We helped, with the assistance of elected officials, especially here in Oak Park, to improve the line. Hard to ignore myself, as I am a re-elected official. Chris: Thanks for pointing out that Rick Kuner mentioned lawsuits as a strategy. That's a big change.


Posted: October 5th, 2013 2:21 PM

"It's an honor to be put in the same category as Tom B." It appears IDOT and our elective officials also put you in the same category as Socialist Tom by ignoring you much like they ignore him.


Posted: October 5th, 2013 1:30 PM

Actually Bruce, as he has in previous public forums Rich Kuner did mention lawsuits on Monday evening as a strategy.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park   

Posted: October 5th, 2013 10:55 AM

Huh: Now we're resorting to scatological terms. When all else fails curse! Also, it's an honor to be put in the same category as Tom B.


Posted: October 5th, 2013 9:50 AM

Green Guy Bruce, you gave me a good laugh! Just because someone calls you out on your BS you claim they are a contractor or affiliated with IDOT! Ha! No, I am just some downtown office bot who thinks the Blue Line sucks and that throwing money at it is useless due to incompetent mgt and the unions. The fact is people out west want this expanded. There are more people west of OP impacted by the Ike than there are in OP. Tough to tell who is more clueless: Socialist Tom B. Fox News Simpson or you.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 9:26 AM

Michael O: I agree that thousands have suffered but for a different reason : All the resources used by the Village to hire attorneys and to "study" the cap, including funds earmarked by our congressman could have been used for better purposes, like improving the Blue Line

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 9:23 AM

Ok Chris I made an error re histrionics but no one on Cat's 25 person steering committee called for lawsuits. Michael O: IDOT seems impervious to CAT's wishes and you give us too much assumption of power to think that we were responsible for "constant stalls and delays". Early on one person left the steering committee of 25 and called for a cap, but this was never CAT's position. In fact the cap argument was used in favor of expansion. Increased pollution will occur.

Jim from South Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 8:45 AM

IDOT needs to clear up our "vague fears" by telling use what air and noise pollution will be. Data exists for engineers to calculate that. Neither should exceed current levels, and it would be nice to see a decrease. Why should Oak Park suffer more of either so some commuter in Elburn can get to downtown Chicago faster??

MichaelO from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 7:02 AM

There will always be zealots. Rick Kuner and Bruce Samuels are two examples. And that can be a good thing. However, constant stalls and delays, holding out pretty dreams like the Cap and using vague fears like increased pollution and lost property have helped stall any progress on the Eisenhower. Thousands have suffered for decades as a result.


Posted: October 4th, 2013 10:06 PM

The dictionary I looked at included "overly dramatic" as part of the definition of histrionics. Claiming that IDOT planned to destroy the Maze Library, Rehm Park and the Conservatory fits into that category. Even if there was any truth to that it certainly is moot now. But, calling for lawsuits in the fight for "environmental justice" seems to continue to mine that vein for hysteria. This isn't the Love Canal or the Austin incinerator. The traffic is there, let it move better, add the lanes.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 7:23 PM

. Chris: I'm especially surprised by you using terms like "histrionics". All CAT meetings were conducted civilly and Rick Kuner has always been a perfect gentleman.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 7:18 PM

Well, at least 2 of the 4 of you used your names. I went to numerous meetings NOT run by CAT but by IDOT where hundreds of written comments were submitted against any expansion of lanes. This scenario decreases the possibility of increased mass transit and/or the quality of mass transit. "Huh": there's no need to be sarcastic, especially when you don't use your name. For all we know you work for IDOT or a contractor. Chris: I'm especially surprised by you using terms like "histrionics".


Posted: October 4th, 2013 3:13 PM

Muntz, Huh, and Ready; Of course the Greens and CATS were able to fill rooms with people against the expansion of the Ike a few years back with their histrionics. Back then there were fears that IDOT was going to demolish the Maze Library, Rehm Park and the Conservatory as well as hundreds of properties. But, now that IDOT has committed to staying in the Trench, those bogie-men are gone. Kuner and Bruce have a valid point on the ramps, but should give in now. Let's declare victory and move on.

Ready to Move Forward from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 1:29 PM

Bruce: As both this article and the Tribune's indicate, many Oak Park citizens are in favor Ike expansion and increasingly embarrassed by the obstructionist minority. That trustees are "shocked, shocked I tell you" that many OPers favor expansion only speaks to how easily swayed they are are by the distortions of the special interests and well documented bias of village staff.


Posted: October 4th, 2013 12:33 PM

Green Guy Bruce apparently thinks only Oak Park citizens' opinions matter when it comes to expanding the Ike. What about the people west of us? Think they want the Ike expanded? What about their elected officials? Is IDOT not listening to them? Are you really as clueless as you seem?


Posted: October 4th, 2013 12:32 PM

@Bruce-By "failed to heed", do you mean IDOT has ignored the Citizens for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) #1 mission "Adding lanes to the Eisenhower Expressway is unnecessary". I'm not sure you can gain leverage with such an adversarial goal. That ship has sailed. Capacity is being added one way or another. We now need to ensure that we optimize the corridor while still meeting your other goals (env, social).The best way to have our voices heard is to offer alternative solutions.What are yours?

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 8:56 AM

We now face a situation where IDOT has failed to heed the input from citizens and has presented a sham choice to the public. Bruce Samuels, Treasurer CAT and West Side Greens

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 8:54 AM

The organization of CAT began in 2001 when then Greens of Oak Park formed a coalition with other folks and held a meeting at a church and invited Rick Kuner to speak. About 70 people attended. Another meeting at Ascension Church was attended by 300 people. By March CAT had established a 25 person Steering Committee. The Greens have always maintained that IDOT could only be reined in by elected officials, especially State Senators and State Representatives.

Patricia O'Shea from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 2nd, 2013 5:11 PM

I was unable to attend the meeting, but from the pictures it looks like it's a decent approach. I support adding a lane and appreciate that iDOT is looking for how to do it without widening the trench. I support the lane because unless we are going to do a substantial railway extension around the Chicago area, rail is just not practical for those who do the reverese commute, sales people, etc.

RLM from Oak Park  

Posted: October 2nd, 2013 2:08 PM

Please note that there are IDOT sponsored forums next week in Chicago and Forest Park so people need to attend those as well. I live at Garfield and Harlem so construction would affect me; but I am also a commuter who HAS to drive for work and the bottleneck is terrible and really ridiculous. I don't think MORE cars would be on the Ike, the same cars would be on the Ike for LESS TIME. And honestly it would be less dangerous for people unfamiliar with this part of town.

Eric Reeb from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 1st, 2013 5:12 PM

Oak Park business traveler from Oak Park: Why not hold the meeting in Schaumburg? People living out there might get a lot out of a widened Ike, going to meetings and whatnot too.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 1st, 2013 3:25 PM

@ Greg F: IDOT's plan has always been to add a fourth lane through Oak Park AND Forest Park and further west.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 1st, 2013 2:48 PM

@Michele Gurgas: "I ask [the village board], how will you help facilitate citizen involvement?" Really, Michele, are you serious? There have been dozens of meetings the past eight or nine years open to citizens, and extensive local media coverage. Why is it the village board's responsibility to "facilitate" the participation of grown adults in such a widely publicized process? I really don't mean to be disrespectful, but the only "facilitation" required involves showing up at the meetings.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 11:14 PM

So Dan, what's your take on the idea of widening Harlem Avenue?

greg f. from oak park  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 2:50 PM

in a past meeting IDOT said they knew how and intended to add a 4th lane in each direction to the eisenhower without physically widening the footprint or trench through oak park. while i believe them there's a big omission to this thinking--what about suburbs west of oak park (forest park, maywood, etc.) where the expressway's also only 3 lanes (west to mannheim)? working on oak park's pointless unless you can do all suburbs to 4 lanes; i've looked at it as i drive by and i just don't see how

Sergio from Oak Park  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 12:49 PM

First, why is this forum being held without IDOT. I do not trust the Village and their "expert" to tell the public what is really going on. They have an anti-car agenda. Cole especially has publicly dissembled on this topic. Second, Lauber is right. Congestion is what causes air pollution. There will be less pollution with a fourth lane, not more. But elite Oak Parkers like Cole and Kuehnert don't care because most of the pollution affects the Austin community.

Daniel Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 10:09 AM

Actually, the traffic jams on the Ike likely worsen the air pollution in Oak Park and neighboring suburbs far worse than adding a fourth lane would do. I seriously doubt if adding a fourth lane will seriously increase the amount of traffic on the Ike. More likely it will result in fewer traffic jams with cars moving slowly through Oak Park or simply sitting their spewing pollution into Oak Park's air.

Cheryl from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2013 2:16 PM

Widening might not be a bad thing IF IDOT was still supporting an extension of the Blue Line. I have heard that they are not. This is just going to worsen the air pollution near the Ike.

Oak Park business traveler from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2013 9:34 AM

I am bothered that the venue chosen for the meeting is Irving School. There are a lot of Oak Parkers, who have to drive to clients, the south and west side, etc, who would also benefit from a widened Ike. The selection of the meeting on the home court of those fighting the plan is intimidating for those of us who might see it as a good thing.


Posted: September 27th, 2013 10:07 PM

"The expressway narrows to three lanes as it passes through Oak Park, contributing to frequent traffic jams." Even Dan Haley sees the need for another lane and said that Oak Park won by having IDOT commit to staying within the existing trench while adding the additional lanes. What is the point of this meeting? Is it to throw another wrench into the plan? Let's go to the special board meeting and tell them to stop obstructing this project and be part of solving the region's problems.

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