Des Plaines Oasis: End of the road

Drivers get nostalgic before teardown

Editor’s note: The tollway will demolish the oasis.

Will anyone shed a tear when the Des Plaines Oasis and its assorted pretzel, coffee, burger, pizza and tchotchke shops are bulldozed this spring to make way for new construction?

They may not weep, but Bob and Ursela Szumski’s travels from Wisconsin to see family on the East Coast won’t be the same without a comfort stop before they brave the Chicago traffic.

“We will (miss it),” Bob Szumski said, enjoying his coffee as cars whizzed by underneath on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).

On the way home to Madison, the oasis is a reward after “going through all of the traffic — you can stop and take a deep breath,” Ursela said. “Or, if you’re going to Chicago, you can go to the bathroom before you hit the Chicago traffic.”

“The bathroom is important,” Bob said, adding that the two retirees are always tempted by the food and coffee at the oasis shops.

Des Plaines Oasis aficionados would be advised to savor as much of that Starbucks coffee and those McDonald’s fries as they can before the oasis is toast.

Its removal is necessary to make way for the extension of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway and a related bypass around the airport, and for widening the tollway.

While the glass-framed pavilion will be demolished by the tollway at a cost of $9.3 million, the 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store will remain.

The oasis was built in 1959. Back in the day, when folks took Sunday drives, it was a destination point for suburbanites with a Fred Harvey sit-down restaurant.

Some drivers I talked to last week were nonchalant about the oasis’ extinction, like Shirley and Tim Diedrich of Madison, Wis.

“We drive through here all the time ... it’s the first time I’ve stopped in 30 years,” said Tim Diedrich, who has family in Wheaton.

But Palatine resident Doug Skarstein will have a few regrets.

“I do use it,” said Skarstein, who was catching up over lunch with son, Kyle, a college senior at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.

“I just picked up my son from O’Hare. It’s an ideal spot because he hadn’t eaten for a while,” Skarstein said. The family also stops by prior to attending Chicago Bulls games to grab dinner, and Skarstein uses it as a needed break when heading home from business in the city.

“There’s no place to pull over without having to pay for parking again ... it makes sense,” he said.

One more thing

Here’s a few details on the construction:

The oasis stands in the path of a connector bridge linking I-90 with the western bypass segment of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway. The western bypass connects with the Tri-State Tollway in Franklin Park, with the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway at the airport and with I-90 in Des Plaines.

The oasis also is smack in the way of the ongoing Jane Addams widening, which is continuing next year. (Sorry I-90 commuters.)

The oasis building will close this spring but actual structure removal won’t start until June, with completion set for the end of 2014, tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

“The estimated cost of removing the building is $4.8 million, which includes removal of the oasis, site restoration and parking area improvements,” she said.

Occasional 15-minute closures of all lanes at night could start this summer to accommodate demolition.

You should know

Last week’s headlines centered on a report from an outside attorney concerning complaints of sexual harassment and racist comments by two top Regional Transportation Authority leaders, including outgoing Executive Director Joseph Costello. The RTA says it took the complaints seriously and required management training for both. Costello denied any inappropriate conduct, according to the report.

Enter Marengo Democrat Jack Franks. The state representative last week wrote to RTA Chairman John S. Gates stating that “Mr. Costello must not be awarded a severance package, bonus or any payments beyond his contractual guarantees.” Franks also demanded that Costello not be employed by the RTA as a private consultant or contractor.

Gates’ response was “Executive Director Joe Costello made a personal decision to retire after approximately 19 years of service to the RTA.” He added that Costello did not receive any severance or other compensation other than what he is due as an employee upon retirement.

Think that settles that? I doubt it. Expect more transit drama in 2014.

Your voice

Happy holidays to all In Transit readers! Thanks for joining the conversation this year and next.

In that spirit, here are some thoughts from railroad historian Tom Fetters of Lombard about the expensive crash-prevention technology known as Positive Train Control. It’s a federal mandate required by 2015 and has been in the news lately with a Metro-North commuter rail crash in the Bronx Dec. 1.

“Hidden away, but directly impacting Positive Train Control, is a National Historic Preservation Act requiring that NO radio installation license be granted by the Federal Communications Commission until (American) Indian nations have inspected the site to ascertain that no ancient artifacts are disturbed or destroyed by the work,” Fetters emailed.

“The system, as I understand it, relies on installation of radios on poles along the right of way to monitor the trains as they move. Some 20,000 poles will have to be installed. The FCC and the Indian nations lack the resources to inspect the 20,000 locations. The FCC will not have a program proposal ready until the end of March. The response of the Indian tribes is not subject to an imposed timeline, so could throw the whole thing off.

“Meanwhile, Metro-North has tweaked the existing signals to provide an audible signal if the train speed is too high and which will stop a speeding train at five selected curves as well as five bridges that can move. Since PTC is overkill in many ways, there are some alternative solutions that may work well for the railroads and the public.”


Metra is offering deals with its Family Fares today through Jan. 3. Three kids up to age 11 can ride free with a fare-paying adult and a $7 unlimited ride holiday fare will be offered on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comBob Szumski and his wife, Ursela, both of Madison, Wis., take a break at the Des Plaines Oasis. The couple say they regularly stop at the Oasis on trips to and from the East Coast.
George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comDoug Skarstein of Palatine will miss the Des Plaines Oasis when it’s torn down next year.
George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comTim and Shirley Diedrich, of Madison, Wis., take a breather at the Des Plaines Oasis.

Dashing through the airport

Along with Santa and the reindeer, more than 4 million fliers will stream through the Chicago area this holiday. The busiest day was Friday with 209,000 people at O’Hare International Airport and more than 66,000 at Midway International Airport. Complimentary gift wrapping will be available past security checkpoints today and Christmas Eve from noon to 5 p.m. at O’Hare and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Midway. The holiday period stretches from Friday through Jan. 6.

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