‘The 9th/17th Ave. Ramps Are Staying,’ Says IDOT Rep After Public Outcry Over Proposed Closures

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An IDOT illustration of a proposed high occupancy toll lane, also called a HOT lane, which would be accessible via a toll payment. Buses and carpooling vehicles will be able access the lane for free. | Screenshot

Thursday, May 5, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

When Pete Harmet, the bureau chief of programming with the Illinois Department of Transportation, was asked by a resident why there was “a need to close 9th and 17th Avenue entrances and exits,” Harmet seemed to perk up at the question.

At a meeting Wednesday night, held at Proviso Math and Science Academy, Hamet had an air of evident relief about him.

“This has actually become an easy question to answer now,” Harmet said. “The ramps are staying.”

Several months ago, such inquiry might have been cause for a headache and nervous sweating. IDOT had initially 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.

The proposed closures were part of an estimated $2 billion expansion of 13 miles of the Eisenhower Expressway. IDOT officials noted that the ramp closures would mitigate the traffic congestion and decrease the number of crashes in that area of the Ike.

Many Maywood residents and local elected officials, however, were alarmed at the news. Most people who were outraged thought the closures would restrict access in and out of the village.

At a tension-filled IDOT meeting in January held at the Maywood Multipurpose Building, dozens of angry residents booed down the IDOT proposal and anybody who supported it. Even elected officials like state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) came out strongly against the closures, with Welch circulating a petition against the plan.

During a series of working group meetings comprising village elected officials, ordinary residents and community leaders, talk of closing the ramps were shutdown.

“We took a deeper, closer look at the access configuration in Maywood and the headline was, ‘Yeah, we can make this work with all the ramps in place,” Harmet said.

The decision to keep the ramps automatically eliminated four out of the six possible configuration options that IDOT had for the area of expressway spanning the village. Two options, which Harmet said were the best performing ones, are now under consideration with one, called Alternative 6, performing best.

That option would entail no frontage road connections at 1st Avenue, as had been recommended before as part of the proposal calling for the 9th and 17th Avenue ramp closures. Ten percent of Frontage Road would be dedicated to local traffic, with the remaining 90 percent dedicated to non-local traffic.

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“What we’ve heard very, very clearly here in Maywood were concerns about access and drainage, as well as what economic benefits this project will bring to the Village of Maywood,” said Harmet.

IDOT estimates that the expressway improvements could save commuters nearly $3 billion in money lost to traveling. The project could also improve the overall safety of the Ike by more than 60 percent.

According to IDOT, 17th Avenue handles the most local Maywood trips (40 percent of local traffic), followed by 1st Avenue (36 percent) and 9th Avenue (16 percent). Twenty-fifth Avenue handles the least local traffic, according to IDOT, with only 8 percent of local traffic.

Harmet said the project would include upgrading the expressway’s drainage system to increase its capacity and to mitigate flooding and the increased local traffic due to rain waters backing up onto the Ike.

The drainage improvements, he said, have the potential to reduce flooding in more than 140 acres of the village. This aspect of the project would be done in collaboration with the Village of Broadview and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Harmet said the current expressway overpasses in Maywood will also be improved. Some of that work will happen in the near term. They would include expanding the sidewalks on the bridges, making them ADA-compliant and installing modernized signals with pedestrian countdown timers. Bataan Dr. and Harrison St. would undergo full reconstruction, Harmet noted.

A new proposed lane, called a high occupancy toll, or HOT, lane, would be built, Harmet noted. It would run between Mannheim and Racine and would be separated by paint, with various access points for drivers.

Harmet said the HOT lane would be built after IDOT moved the inner entrance/exit ramps at Austin and Harlem to the exteriors of the expressway. Toll rates would be roughly 16 to 20 cents a mile, except for buses and carpooling cars, which would access the lane for free.

“The lane would be a reliable trip,” Harmet said, adding that it would run an average of 45 miles per hour “all day long” and could cut down travel times by around 25 percent. Drivers who choose not to use the lanes won’t be required to pay toll.

Maywood noise wall voting 

During Wednesday’s meeting, Harmet also updated attendees on the results of the rounds of voting on proposed noise walls that would be built along the Eisenhower between 1st and 25th Avenues. Most homeowners who would were allowed to vote in two rounds of voting (the voting was among homeowners who would be most affected by the noise walls) did so overwhelmingly in favor of the walls, Harmet noted.

They may have to vote again in the coming months, however, in light of the recent changes to the Ike plan that call for leaving the ramps at 9th and 17th Avenues in place.

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.

The next working group meeting for Maywood is scheduled to take place on June 23, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at a location to be determined.

To access the IDOT presentation delivered on May 4, click hereVFP

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