Area transportation leaders are skeptical about the potential impact and likely execution of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s plans to expand Interstate 290.
Nonetheless, Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb concurs with IDOT that the current ramp configurations at Harlem and Austin avenues on I-290, also known as the Eisenhower Expressway, are dangerous.
Those are among a wide range of views expressed by Eisenhower-area leaders regarding the four final alternatives presented by IDOT to add one lane in each direction and move exit and entrance ramps at Harlem and Austin to outside lanes.
Even using IDOT’s own projections, the best performer of its four alternatives to widen the Eisenhower would reduce the amount of time the highway is congested by only 45 minutes each day, said Rick Kuner, cochairman of the Citizens for Appropriate Transportation.
IDOT says the Eisenhower is currently congested in varying degrees for an average of 17 hours each day, Kuner said. IDOT’s option two, which adds a high-occupancy vehicle lane requiring vehicles to carry two or more passengers, would reduce that average to 16 hours and 15 minutes each day, he said.
“We’re talking about (a project cost of) plus or minus $1 billion,” Kuner said. “In my mind, they have made a case for the need to rebuild it. But if you have $1 billion, is the best use of it rebuilding the Ike, when you’re going to get that small of a performance change?”
Moving the Harlem and Austin ramps from inside to outside lanes will make it safer for drivers exiting and entering the expressway, Abu-Taleb said.
“I tell my kids not to take the Harlem ramp on or off the expressway, because it is a dangerous ramp,” he said. “I would like it to be much safer, not just for my kids but for everyone who uses it. Right now it’s counterintuitive to have a left or center ramp. It’s counterintuitive to people not familiar with the area.”
IDOT needs to make sure it considers all possible alternatives for the ramps, in particular due to the effect elevating the ramps may have on the value of property along the expressway, Abu-Taleb said.
“At the same time, I recognize that we can’t have everything we want,” he said. “This project is going to be around for 100 years. We have to be mindful of long-term planning. This is something that will affect many generations to come.”
Like Abu-Taleb, Ron Burke believes IDOT’s proposal to add a bike and walking path on the north side of the Eisenhower from Columbus Park in Chicago to Desplaines Avenue in Forest Park would improve safety for pedestrians.
However, Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, is not convinced that the path and other improvements to pedestrian safety will ever happen.
IDOT has proposed similar pedestrian improvements in other projects, including featuring the changes in its drawings, but then failed to deliver when funding wasn’t made available for the work, he said.
“Based on our experience with similar IDOT projects, there are many things in their sketches that IDOT won’t pay for or hasn’t paid for in the past,” Burke said. “Some of the things we’ve seen in their drawings, such as trees or greenery on overpasses, IDOT doesn’t even allow.”
Despite his skepticism, Burke said he would love to see a biking and walking path along the Eisenhower, if IDOT can fit it into the existing trench created for the expressway.
“It’s totally doable,” he said. “It would just need to be designed properly and paid for. There is a lot of room for improvement. These are things that, frankly, should have been done a long time ago. We’re hopeful. We’re just not sure what IDOT is going to pay for and follow through on.”