Tollway growth leaves homeowners in bad spot
Sara Emerson's house on South California Avenue in Posen is just a stone's throw from the Tri-State Tollway. It's slated to be acquired as part of interchange construction.
Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer
I'm ashamed to admit I went into a slight doze during an Illinois tollway PowerPoint presentation on land acquisition in April.
It was prompted by the fact the tollway was embarking on a mission to acquire up to 320 properties standing in the way of a new interchange at the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) and I-57.
On trackAmtrak posted its 11th consecutive ridership gain for August. That follows a July that was the passenger railroad's best month in its history. From October 2011 to August 2012, ridership rose 3.4 percent, and it's surged by 44 percent from 2002 to 2011. Administrators also predict September will set a record for passengers.
"Fair and equitable process ... blah blah. The value of your property is assessed by appraisal," ... zzzzzz. And so it went.
I snapped awake, however, when board Director and Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez posed an interesting question.
"Say I have a house that was worth $200,000 but now is worth $160,000. I've lost $40,000 worth of equity, but I have no plans to move," Gonzalez stated.
What happens to the homeowner then? he asked.
Turns out there's no good answer. At a time when most of us are holding onto our homes for dear life with no desire to leave until the values start rising again, residents in the shadow of the interchange must negotiate terms during one of the worst housing markets ever.
Sara Emerson, 63, will have to leave the house she grew up in to make way for a new access ramp. It's a big lot on South California Avenue in Posen where shade trees and black-eyed Susans play second fiddle to an eclectic statuary collection -- a St. Francis, a Buddha, angels, a lighthouse and two birdbaths, to name a few pieces.
"I'm taking them with me," Emerson said. "I don't know how I'm going to take them, but I'm taking them."
But where the statues will go is anyone's guess.
"I don't know what I'm going to do or where I'm going to go," she said. "This will be my last Thanksgiving here, my last Christmas."
Nathaniel Hume's voice breaks as he talks about leaving the home on South California Avenue where he'd hoped to spend his golden years.
"I just retired and now I've got worry about where I'm going to live," Hume said. "We moved out of Harvey because the neighborhood was changing ... Posen was so nice and beautiful."
Tollway officials said they follow Illinois' Uniform Relocation Act that requires all homeowners be treated fairly and consistently. The agency will pay up to $25,000 when the cost of a new dwelling is more than what it paid to take the resident's home. It typically pays off balances on mortgages that are underwater.
"We understand that this can be an emotional and difficult process for people, especially when their home is involved," spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said in an email.
The agency also can provide relocation assistance to displaced homeowners, such as moving expenses or counseling to find a place, if they qualify.
"Every relocation is different and each homeowner has a different financial situation ... We work with each of them on a case-by-case basis and follow the protections for homeowners that are outlined in the law," Abrams said.
But attorney Justin Cacciatore, who represents two homeowners on California Avenue, thinks he'll get a better deal from a judge or jury than the tollway.
"We feel their offer is inadequate, and we'll get justice in court," Cacciatore said last week.
Building the $719 million interchange is part of the tollway's $12 billion construction program, Move Illinois, paid for with a hefty toll increase. The project is a culmination of years of lobbying by South suburban politicians and local chambers of commerce. It's estimated to create 4,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs and be an economic shot in the arm to the South suburbs.
So far, the tollway owns 23 of the 320 properties. Of those, five were acquired by negotiation and 18 by condemnation. Twenty were vacant and three were single-family homes.
The tollway has set aside $14.3 million for interchange land acquisition compared to $13 million to buy land for a Huntley interchange at Route 47 and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).
Yet the agency anticipates acquiring only 12 parcels in Huntley versus 320. Abrams noted that approximately 224 parcels of the interchange land is vacant or vacated public right of way.
Another transportation project that involves acquiring property is the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension east to O'Hare. About 52 businesses and seven residences will be affected by the expansion. The joint tollway/Illinois Department of Transportation effort is still in its early stages.
As for how many properties will be on the block if a Route 53 extension north is built by the tollway? Stay tuned.
What do you think? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One more thing
• The interchange is expected to handle 76,000 vehicles a day and will be finished in 2024. The location is one of two in the U.S. where interstates cross but don't link up.
• Expect some construction issues this year as the tollway rebuilds and widens the Tri-State bridges over 147th Street to accommodate new access ramps. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Transportation will rebuild the I-57 bridge over the Tri-State.
Robert E. Cudney of Palatine is fed up with Quentin Road. "For the last three weeks there has been a complete shut down of any work on the Quentin Road project," he wrote Sept. 4. "We were wondering what happened, it looks like most of the preparation work is complete -- (so) why no further action on the project at this time?"
Village Manager Reid Ottesen had this response:
"First, I will start by saying that this project is under the jurisdiction of Cook County," Ottesen noted. "That said, the village has been very frustrated with the project. It started out very quickly with tremendous progress being made in the first month and then everything came to a halt. It is our understanding that there was a dispute between the paving subcontractor and the general contractor and county over the type of material to be used. This stopped virtually all work.
"I sent a letter to the county just before Labor Day asking for all barricades to be removed and temporary markings placed so that the entire road could be used while they worked through the dispute. (On Aug. 6) some surface work did commence. The project has an Oct. 21 completion date. I am very hopeful that it is done well before that. Our residents, businesses and the general public have put up with more than enough inconveniences."
Expect the unexpected if you drive through Niles and Morton Grove. I know you're thinking, "flash mobs?," but it's actually IDOT crews who will be improving traffic signals along Route 21, Route 43 and Route 14. Give yourself lots of time to navigate occasional lane closures. The project won't be done until Aug. 30, 2013. For more info with construction maps, go to http://www.gettingaroundillinois.com/gai.htm?mt=cons#.
The tollway and Illinois State Police host two child safety seat events this week where experts will check and help you install these tricky essentials. About 80 percent of safety seats are installed improperly in Illinois. Not trusting my handiwork, I went to one of these and a kindly cop did it in minutes. The events run 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Jewel-Osco, 7335 Cass Ave., Darien, and Friday at the Jewel-Osco, 2164 Bloomingdale Road, Glendale Heights.
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