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FOREST PARK | Perhaps Peter Harmet, the IDOT bureau chief of programming for the
Chicago region, best summed up why plans are being considered to expand the
Eisenhower Expressway 13 miles from the I-88/290 split east to Racine.
 
He noted that the Eisenhower, built in 1962, has twice as many vehicles using it today
than what it was originally designed to handle. Hence, the routine, frustrating traffic
jams motorists endure going into, and out of, the city of Chicago.
 
Harmet and other IDOT representatives were on hand for a public meeting at the
Proviso Math and Science Academy last week to outline and explain four specific
proposals to expand the Eisenhower, as well take questions and comments from
citizens.
 
These proposals, he emphasized, are still being “fleshed out,” as he put it, as IDOT
continues to get public input. IDOT would make a decision on a preferred plan later in
2014, he said.    

Here’s a breakdown of the four plans currently being considered:
--One proposal simply adds a fourth general purpose lane. There would be four lanes
in each direction with no special requirements.

--A second proposal would add an HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane which, in
essence, would serve as a carpool lane. If, for example, you have at least two people in
a vehicle, you ride in that lane. All other vehicles would be required to use the other
lanes. East of Austin, the inside lane would be re-striped down to Racine Avenue to be
a carpool lane that would be continuous from Mannheim down to Racine.

--The third alternative calls for the addition of a HOT lane—or a high-occupancy toll lane.
It’s the additional lane outlined above plus a re-striping of the inside lane east of Austin.
If you have three-or-more people, you ride for free, but two or fewer people would be
required to pay a toll.

--The fourth alternative would be to add a HOT lane, add a lane on the west and re-
striping on the east, and having tolling on the remaining lanes.
 
“In terms of the roadway side, each one of them adds a lane between Mannheim and
Austin so you would have a continuous four-lane in each direction,” Harmet said.  
 
He said it would take “multiple years” to complete such a project, which would be done
in stages. Whether or not any expansion takes depends on funding, which has not yet
been determined.
 “One of the things we’ve got to do is explore financing opportunities, funding
opportunities,” Harmet said. “How much funding there is will determine, of course, how
much work can be done. So this is also part of the remainder of this study process.  
“We just take this one step at a time, and let’s see how this planning process unfolds.”
 
Before actual work to add extra lanes to the Eisenhower could commence, the initial
stage of an expansion would require rebuilding overhead  bridges from Austin
westward to make room for these lanes, Harmet said.  “We’ve got to do the overhead
bridges first,” he said. “Certainly not all the bridges first because you’ve got to maintain
traffic flow.”
 
The proposed Eisenhower expansion would coincide with plans to upgrade the CTA
Blue Line from Clinton Street to Forest Park, which CTA strategic planner Janine Farzin
said is sorely needed.

“The (CTA) facility (in Forest Park) was also built in the late 1950s and so we also want
to make sure it meets the needs of the community today,” Farzin said, “so we’re also
looking at wanting to improve access to the communities. And once you get to the
station, improving access to the platform.   “Only four of the 11 stations on the branch
are accessible so we would like to improve accessibility to all the stations on the
branch.”
 
Farzin said the CTA has just completed an existing conditions study of the Blue Line
and “what we’ve found is that it’s in bad shape.”  “There’s exposed rebar, there’s cracks
in the concrete, the tracks and ties aren’t in good condition so we’re looking to
modernize the existing branch,” she said.  
 
Although updating the existing CTA Blue Line is the top priority, Farzin said the
possibility exists for the CTA to expand the Blue Line west to Mannheim Road.  “It’s not
a fiscal priority for the entire region between now and 2040, but it’s something that the
CTA would not rule out in the long term,” she said. “We have to take care of our existing
system before we can consider expansion.”
Plans proposed for Ike
expansion, Blue Line upgrade