A screenshot a video of IDOT’s 1st Avenue single point interchange concept. Below, residents gather at village chambers on Dec. 7 to discuss the Eisenhower expansion project. | Illinois Department of Transportation; Michael Romain
The Village of Maywood is seeking community members willing to participate in an I-290 Advisory Working Group (AWG) to collaborate with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) in the planning phase of an estimated $2 billion expansion of 13 miles of the Eisenhower Expressway.
The first AWG meeting will be held Thursday, Jan. 21, 6 PM to 8 PM, at the Maywood Multipurpose Building, 200 S. 5th Avenue.
The announcement of the working group comes in the wake of a Dec. 7 informational meeting about the project, where some Maywood residents voiced concerns that their interests and input in the process were possibly being overlooked.
Pete Harmet, IDOT’s bureau chief of programming, was on hand at the Dec. 7 meeting to present information, and field residents’ questions, about the project.
Among proposed changes Harmet mentioned include the addition of a car pool lane between Mannheim and Austin Blvd.
“There would be continuous four lanes in each direction and the inside lane would be a car pool lane,” Harmet said. “If you’ve got three people in a car, you ride for free. If you’re in a transit vehicle your ride is free. If you’re by yourself, you pay a toll.”
Harmet said the proposed car pool lane is designed to make travel on the more than 50-year-old expressway less congested and more reliable.
“Adding capacity actually improves travel times in other lanes by about 25 percent,” he said. “It’s clogged up today.”
IDOT has proposed closing the entrance and exit ramps at 9th Avenue and the westward ramp at 17th Avenue in order to mitigate safety concerns and free up space along the Eisenhower between 1st and 25th Avenues.
“We’ve got a bunch of interchanges in about a mile and a half area,” Harmet said, adding that the congestion correlates with elevated crash rates. “Sections of the Eisenhower with left-side ramps have the highest crash rates and the next-highest crash rate was this section between 25th and 1st Avenues.”
Expressing an opinion held by several residents in attendance, one resident angrily asked Harmet whether the Maywood Board of Trustees agreed to IDOT’s proposal, since the village is “the only suburb whose access to I-290 will be eliminated.”
Harmet said that there will still be access to Maywood at 1st, 17th and 25th Avenues, but access at 17th Avenue will be limited to those traveling to and from the east. The connection to Harrison at 1st Avenue will not exist under IDOT’s current proposal.
With respect to the village board, Harmet said, “We’re still coordinating with them and we’d like a resolution of support by the time we get to a public hearing.”
Harmet noted that IDOT has proposed adding modernized traffic signals, wider sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly features, such as count-down timers and well-marked crosswalks, near some of those ramps.
IDOT has also proposed restricting Frontage Road from 1st to 25th Avenues for local usage, as opposed to making it part of the expressway system.
At 1st Avenue, IDOT would install dual left-turn lanes on both legs of the interchange approaching the Eisenhower.
“When 1st Avenue is having a bad day, traffic backs up all the way to Proviso Math and Science Academy,” Harmet said. “With proposed conditions, we’d reduce that dramatically.”
Harmet noted that there are three alternatives for addressing 1st Avenue, with the leading alternative assuming that Frontage Road will be restricted to local use.
Another alternative, the most costly and least viable according to Harmet, is to build an underpass that would take traffic underneath the interchange and into Maywood. This option, however, would require the state to purchase properties between 1st and 2nd Avenues for demolition.
There would also be a modernized signal at Van Buren, with possible access to local properties connected to Frontage Road. Both Bataan and Harrison would be two-way streets between 2nd and 9th Avenues in a move that Harmet said would improve traffic circulation in the areas.
Harmet said that IDOT is proposing to move the traffic light currently at 25th and Congress to 25th and Van Buren, since left turns are currently restricted in the area.
But several residents at the meeting noted that this measure wouldn’t resolve a major concern they had with the proposal.
“If you’re eliminating the entrance ramp at 19th onto the Eisenhower, you just take the traffic that isn’t entering the expressway there and you re-route it through that neighborhood, so that means double or triple [the traffic volume],” said Maywood resident Lennel Grace.
Harmet said that the redevelopment of Wilson Elementary School, 1136 24th Ave. (which will be converted into a different use), the resurfacing of roads in the area and restricting a portion of Frontage Road to local use would help mitigate some of those problems.
“You still haven’t eliminated the jar around,” Grace said, unsatisfied with Harmet’s response. “That doesn’t answer the question.”
Addressing the project’s total impact on travel times, Harmet noted that drivers traveling from Roosevelt Road to Madison would experience, on average, about a 20 to 70 foot travel difference.
“In terms of where travel is a little greater, it’s still less than a quarter of a mile,” he said.
Possible noise wall
IDOT has also proposed building noise walls along the Eisenhower from Westchester to Chicago. In Bellwood, a noise wall could be constructed at the intersection of Harrison Street and 21st Avenue. In Maywood, noise walls could be constructed at intersections of Bataan Drive and 1st, 2nd, 8th, 15th and 18th Avenues.
Residents who live in proximity of the walls should receive letters in the mail, in which they’ll be asked whether they approve or disapprove of wall construction. In the case of rental properties, any tenants and the owner of the property will receive a letter. Property owners that share property lines with I-290 are allowed two votes, because of their physical proximity to where the wall will be built.
The approval process will include two rounds. As of the Dec. 7 meeting, the process was in the middle of the first round, according to IDOT officials. They said their goals was to get a one-third response rate among those who were mailed letters. If that response rate isn’t achieved, they said they’d send the letters out again. If more than half of respondents vote in favor of the measure, then the noise walls will be built as part of the expressway expansion project.
So far, only the planning phase of the more than $2 billion project has been funded, Harmet said, adding that he expects the planning phase of the project to be completed by Fall 2016. He said IDOT won’t hold a public hearing until virtually all of the planning has been finalized. That meeting could be held in Spring 2016. VFP