Central Ave. Bypass Plans Moving Ahead
February 25, 2011
By Justyna Kruk
The much-discussed Central Avenue Bypass project designed to improve traffic conditions southwest of Midway Airport is once again gaining momentum at the local and state level.
A public meeting organized by Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) was held on Feb. 17 at St. Laurence High School, 5556 W. 77th St., Burbank, where residents were given the opportunity to compare project options and provide feedback.
Representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) were on hand to answer questions and provide details about the undertaking, which is projected to cost anywhere between $300 million and $500 million.
“This is something that people in my district ask me about all the time,” said Lipinski. “Money started to be put aside in the 1970s, but this is the furthest along that this project has gotten, especially with Speaker of the House Michael Madigan pushing it along.”
So far, $170.4 million has been allocated for Central Avenue improvement. IDOT is currently conducting a preliminary analysis of a nine square mile study area bounded by 63rd Street on the north, Cicero Avenue on the east, 87th Street on the south, and Harlem Avenue on the west.
This is the area most affected by existing traffic conditions.
According to IDOT officials, the study identified the need for more connectivity between roads, additional capacity, and better access for other forms of transportation, such as bicycles and pedestrians — needs any South Side commuter or resident will also attest to.
The study also evaluated three alternatives to the Central Avenue Connector plan. These included the widening of Harlem Avenue, the widening of Cicero Avenue, or a Central to Narragansett overpass.
Ultimately, members of the IDOT study team determined that an underpass connecting Central Avenue north of the rail yards to Central Avenue south of the yards would be the most productive and least costly option.
A trench would be built 20 feet under the rail yards to extend the north-south lanes between 79th Street and 63rd Street
Long-time commuter and Chicago resident Mike Koperniak said he supports the project despite its large price tag.
“If that’s what it costs, that’s what it costs. Road building is expensive and there is a lot involved, but I think it is money well spent because you will be able to see a final product,” he stated.
Lipinski is currently working to pass a surface transportation reauthorization bill that would hopefully provide more federal funding and help put people to work.
When asked about the federal budget deficit and the goal to cut spending, Lipinski answered that Congress has yet to decide whether transportation infrastructure construction will be cut, but emphasized that no income tax dollars will be used to fund the project.
“Let me just say that this project is funded by a gas tax, not the Illinois General Revenue fund,” Lipinski said.
Beyond the funding issues, safety concerns are also of paramount importance to government officials and residents alike.
A widened and connected Central Avenue means more cars and greater safety concerns for children.
Burbank resident Ruben Moreno said the main reason he and his wife attended the meeting was to see how the project would affect the schools located near the 77th and Central Avenue crossing: Jacqueline B. Kennedy Elementary School, St. Laurence High School, and Queen of Peace High School.
Moreno’s daughter is currently a student at Kennedy Elementary School.
“I am happy to hear that they won’t break ground for a couple of years, but we do realize there are kids other than ours,” he said. “As a parent, the concern is what’s best for the kids.”
There are currently four campus design concepts for the pedestrian crossings of 77th and Central Avenue, the first of which involves enhanced cross walks and signals to keep pedestrians and drivers alert.
A pedestrian underpass, a pedestrian overpass, and a lowered Central Avenue are other options being considered.
As he finished the interview, Lipinski reiterated that both the state and federal governments are committed to this issue, with support coming from leaders such as Madigan and United States Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a fight, but we’re making progress,” concluded Lipinski.