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posted: 1/14/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Think safety to narrow jurisdiction gaps

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The occurrence of two fatal accidents in six months at the same suburban neighborhood doesn't necessarily signal a trend or set alarm bells ringing.

But the separate crashes in which a 4-year-old boy and a 66-year-old man died on an unincorporated stretch of roadway near Elk Grove Village do demonstrate safety challenges that arise when jurisdictional responsibilities aren't clear.

Actually, there's no real debate about who is responsible for maintenance and safety at the stretch of Oakton Street just east of Higgins Road. It's the state of Illinois. But it's easy to see how attention to the busy road that serves industrial, residential and commercial properties in the range of both Mount Prospect and Elk Grove Village could get lost in a bureaucratic shuffle.

Timothy Stef, the owner of an auto repair business in the area, told Daily Herald reporter Melissa Silverberg that he's becoming accustomed to seeing accidents in the vicinity, saying the December crash that killed Joseph Swieca as he was crossing Oakton near his home is the third accident he's witnessed this year, including the July crash that killed 4-year-old Jaden Jacob of Chicago.

"They have to do something," Stef said. "This is too much." He said he made some inquiries about getting a crosswalk but "didn't get very far." Meanwhile, a spokesman said Cook County "stands ready to assist the state or local jurisdiction with assessing improvements to the roadway."

Yet, there's still no crosswalk -- nor, for that matter, a determination on whether the situation even calls for some sort of intervention and if so, whether a crosswalk is the answer.

For businesses and residents in the area, the frustration must come in not knowing where or how to get answers or action. And they are surely not alone. Scores of similar "islands" of nonlocal jurisdiction exist throughout the collar counties.

The questions being asked along Oakton Street demonstrate ominously how the concerns involve more than just who is responsible for clearing the snow, fixing the potholes and collecting the revenue from red-light cameras.

It would seem a natural response to call for the state to renew its attention to Oakton Street, and provide needed answers to a neighborhood that has seen two fatal accidents in just six months. But the larger issue involves more locations than just a stretch of one suburban roadway and more attention than just that of the legally overriding jurisdiction. The better answer involves municipal, county and state officials identifying such danger zones and working together more assertively and more closely to ensure safety, protecting motorists as well as residents and businesses.

No, the situation near Oakton and Higgins is not necessarily cause for alarm and swarms of government attention. But it is a reminder of concerns that emerge the farther away residents and businesses are from a responsible government unit, and a call for the state and towns throughout the suburbs to act to narrow that gap as much as possible.

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