More than 600 ideas the state received for expanding the Eisenhower Expressway have been pared to four options, and drivers, transit riders and highway neighbors will have the opportunity this week to weigh in before a final decision is made.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will hold two open houses, Monday and Tuesday, to obtain public feedback on the four alternatives to add lanes and blend in improvements for all forms of transportation, officials said.
Planned changes include interchange design concepts to convert the left-side entrance and exit ramps on the Eisenhower to right-side ramps in Oak Park; introduce carpool lanes and possibly toll lanes; upgrade and possibly extend the CTA Blue Line farther west; and build better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure ranging from wider sidewalks to bike lanes adjacent to the expressway corridor.
"The expressway has outlived its useful life and there are a lot of things that could be better," said Pete Harmet, IDOT's bureau chief of programming for the Chicago region.
All four scenarios are aimed at alleviating chronic traffic congestion for the 200,000 drivers who use the expressway on an average weekday, and reducing the approximately 2,500 crashes a year on the Eisenhower, according to IDOT.
Interstate 290 was built more than 50 years ago to handle half as much traffic as it does today, officials said. The project area covers about 13 miles along I-290, from the Intersate-88/I-290 split to Racine Avenue, and passes through Chicago, Bellwood, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Oak Park and Westchester.
All four proposals call for widening the Eisenhower to four lanes in each direction through the corridor and expanding public transit by providing express bus service or extending the Blue Line from Forest Park to Mannheim Road. More than 28,000 rides are taken each day on the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line.
Three options call for building high-occupancy vehicle lanes, either free or tolled, which would be restricted during peak travel hours to vehicles carrying the driver and at least one passenger.
Two alternatives would create high-occupancy toll lanes. Motorists traveling on those lanes could use it for free if they are carrying at least two passengers; otherwise they would pay a toll during peak hours. The toll would vary based on congestion levels at certain times of the day.
Currently, from just west of Mannheim Road to Austin Avenue, the Eisenhower is three lanes in each direction. East of that segment, the expressway widens to four lanes in each direction through to its terminus in downtown Chicago. West of Mannheim, the Eisenhower is four lanes in each direction before it divides to form the eastern origin of I-88, also known as the Reagan Memorial Tollway.
Congestion levels vary along the corridor.
"The six-lane section between Austin and Mannheim is much more congested than the eight-lane section between Austin and Racine," Harmet said. "It has the highest crash rate in the Chicago region."
From the four plans that will be refined based on public feedback and the ongoing engineering design process, IDOT will select a preferred course of action by late 2014, Harmet said.
"Now we are getting to the point where we are going to start developing the engineering details," he said.
The earliest that construction could begin is 2016, Harmet said, adding that the work would be done in phases. Funding for construction has not been identified, Harmet said. A financing plan, including producing project cost estimates, still needs to be developed, he said.
IDOT and CTA officials will be present at the open houses Monday and Tuesday, officials said. A question-and-answer forum will be held at 6 p.m. each day, IDOT said. Both open houses will be from 5 to 8 p.m.
The first open house will be Monday at the Chicago Marriott at Medical District/UIC, 625 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago. The second will be Tuesday at Proviso Math & Science Academy, 8601 Roosevelt Road, Forest Park.
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