LA GRANGE — Safety and preserving the aesthetic nature of La Grange should be paramount in any solution to the problems surrounding the intersection of 47th Street and East Avenue, area residents said recently.
“The primary need for that intersection is safety. Safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” La Grange resident Charlie Brown said.
The residents, who formed the 47th Street/East Avenue Community Group on Facebook to share information about possible Illinois Department of Transportation solutions to the intersection, said an overpass would create additional traffic, hamper pedestrian access to two community parks and create a physical division within La Grange.
An overpass spanning the railroad tracks is one possible solution proposed by IDOT to alleviate traffic congestion in the area that has steadily built since the closing of a stretch of Joliet Road in 1998. The roadway, which remains closed, was closed due to structural issues in the pavement. The busy intersection currently controlled by four stop signs is near two public parks and a freight train crossing. According to the Chicago Region Environmental Transportation and Efficiency Program, about 12,000 cars and 56 freight trains pass through the area daily. The area also sees high pedestrian traffic due to proximity to Waiola Park and Sedgewick Park.
An overpass would elevate 47th Street to carry motor vehicles over the two rail lines. But the idea of an overpass is not being met with open arms by some La Grange residents who say an overpass would create a physical division of La Grange as well as be a community “eyesore.”
“An overpass would increase traffic and the speed of traffic and create a division within the community,” said Michelle Halm, one of the founders of the Facebook group. “La Grange is a very mature and established community. We do not want the cohesiveness of La Grange divided.”
Halm said she is also concerned an overpass would hinder people from visiting the parks, which she said are key parts of La Grange. Increased traffic from an overpass would increase pedestrian danger. The road has already proven deadly with the 2009 death of Carrie Crook who was struck by a car while crossing the road with her two children.
“It won’t improve the safety. It will be more and more dangerous. That’s not what La Grange needs,” Halm said.
Maria Dike said she worries an overpass would cause area property values to decline and might see some residents actually lose portions of their property to the construction of the overpass. An overpass, “would disconnect the neighborhood from the rest of the town,” she said.
Brown said an overpass would likely attract additional traffic to the area and create more air and noise pollution. He said an overpass would have negative impact on residents’ accessibility to the parks.
“An overpass would also have to be pretty high to safely allow trains with double-decked cars to travel underneath,” he said.
Brown also criticized the financial cost of an overpass.
“It is not cost effective. It’s illogical to go to such extremes when money is tight. We certainly don’t want a solution that goes beyond what is needed,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski has pledged to secure more than $100 million in federal funds for the CREATE projects, according to a 2010 press release.
Seeking community input earlier this year, IDOT formed a community advisory group to talk with residents negatively impacted by the closing of Joliet Road about the best solution to the situation. In addition to a possible overpass, other solutions include installations of traffic signals and designated pedestrian crossing areas. The advisory group held its first meeting in March and will hold another meeting later in the spring. A final decision is not likely to be made until 2015. Halm and Brown were both tapped to be members of the community advisory group.
To share information with other residents not part of the advisory group, Halm and other residents created their Facebook group. Halm said it is important for the community to remain informed since any product will impact the neighborhood and their way of life.
“We created the group to disseminate information in a timely manner. It is a transparent forum for gathering and submitting information to the residents,” Halm said.
Halm said she is a little concerned that all solutions to intersection issues will not be fully explored before a decision is made.
The residents said any solution adopted by IDOT needs to preserve not only the community aesthetic, but the “pedestrian-friendly nature of La Grange,”
Halm said she is hoping the final solution will “keep traffic at a reasonable rate that wouldn’t increase speed and allow pedestrians to cross safely.”
One possibility the residents said they could support is a pedestrian bridge over the road to allow families to safely reach the parks. Halm and Dike said they believe the community would support such a structure as long as it does not detract from the neighborhood aesthetics.
Brown said solutions could also include stop lights, additional sidewalks to prevent individuals from walking on 47th Street and a designated pedestrian crossing areas, which could include a raised walkway.
“Those kinds of solutions fit into the community… and preserve the unique aspect of the residential area,” he said.
Halm said her group will continue to reach out to state and local leaders, including Lipinski, as well as continue to inform residents about issues concerning the intersection.