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updated: 3/14/2011 8:03 AM

Wood Dale project now not so bright

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  • An advisory question on the April 5 ballot will ask Wood Dale voters whether they would like the city to proceed with planning and construction of a grade separation at Irving Park Road and Wood Dale roads. Several candidates in the city council race say they are opposed to the project -- despite the outcome of the referendum.

       An advisory question on the April 5 ballot will ask Wood Dale voters whether they would like the city to proceed with planning and construction of a grade separation at Irving Park Road and Wood Dale roads. Several candidates in the city council race say they are opposed to the project -- despite the outcome of the referendum.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Proposed bypass route

    Graphic: Proposed bypass route

 
 

It's supposed to be the project Wood Dale has long awaited.

But after city officials spent more than a decade seeking roughly $20 million in grants to improve the intersection of Irving Park and Wood Dale roads, most of the aldermanic candidates in the upcoming election say they oppose the project.

They argue the location, which includes two railroad crossings, isn't as notorious as it used to be, thanks to safety upgrades made throughout the years.

Several say they believe a proposed bypass road that would link Wood Dale and Irving Park by running underneath the railroad tracks has the potential of doing more harm than good.

"From a simple urban planning point of view, that underpass is a problem," said Alderman John Kadala, who is trying to keep his Ward 2 seat against challenger Arthur Woods. "A hole in the middle of town is not what you want to identify your community with."

Doubts and questions about the existing plan have prompted the city council to seek community feedback. An advisory question on the April 5 ballot will ask voters whether the city should proceed with planning and construction of "a grade separation" at the intersection.

Of course, council members aren't bound to follow the voters' advice. Kadala, Woods and Ward 1 candidate Frank Lazzara all say the referendum's outcome won't influence their "common sense" objections to the underpass idea.

"I would have to try to sway the argument," Woods said. "And I would probably have to still vote against it."

The discussion is very different from what it was a decade ago when the location ranked high on the Illinois Department of Transportation's list of dangerous crossings. Through the years, officials have said the Wood Dale and Irving Park intersection needed to be overhauled to improve vehicular and pedestrian traffic safety, increase traffic flow and enhance emergency vehicle response time.

The intersection used to be graded an "F" -- IDOT's worst possible score -- before several improvements were made. Those upgrades include a Front Street bypass and a "cop-in-the-box" camera enforcement program that monitors whether motorists drive around the crossing gates.

As a result, the intersection currently has an "E" rating, still short of the "D" rating IDOT considers to be "generally acceptable" in urban areas, officials said.

Nevertheless, Woods said the intersection is "off the radar" as far as being considered dangerous. "I think we have solved that issue," he said.

As for improving the intersection for traffic reasons, Woods said: "We really don't need to see how fast we could move more traffic through Wood Dale."

Lazzara said one of Wood Dale's ongoing problems is trying to convince motorists to stop and spend money in the city.

"I look at it (the bypass road) as just a faster exit out of our town," Lazzara said. "I would like to see that area developed into possibly a downtown area."

Peter Jakab, Lazzara's opponent in the Ward 1 alderman race, agreed the city needs to concentrate on developing the downtown. He said he opposes the bypass plan, in part, because it calls for a stormwater detention area at Commercial Street and Wood Dale -- a location that's been talked about as a possible park.

Kadala said it's the spot where the city has been holding its annual Prairie Fest.

"I have always said that the Prairie Fest should be in the middle of town where people can walk to it," Kadala said. "We finally got it there. Now we want to replace it with an underpass and a wet hole? It doesn't seem like a good idea."

There's even concern that the proposed underpass could be subject to flooding.

"From an engineering standpoint," Woods said, "building that (bypass) road adjacent to a flood zone seems like a recipe for disaster."

Of course, the project does have its supporters.

Ward 4 Alderman Sam Lewitan said his top campaign issue is for the city to use the $20.2 million in state and federal grant money to build the bypass road and make other improvements. The upgrades include creating new turning lanes and synchronizing traffic signals with the railroad crossing signals.

"That money is not there for the underpass only," said Lewitan, who is trying to keep his seat against challenger Michael Susmarski. "You don't want to return that money. You don't want to work to get grants only to turn around and say 'We don't want them.'"

However, Lewitan said he's not going to push for the project if the advisory referendum fails.

"If it's an overwhelming vote, I'll go along with what the majority says," said Lewitan, adding he hopes Wood Dale at least ends up with a pedestrian underpass.

Kadala said city council members are heavily divided on the issue. Still, he said, a final decision must be made.

"I don't know what the answer is," he said. "But with all good conscience, I can't vote for something that I know is going to be a problem."

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