Des Plaines council split on whether to study removing S-curve barrier

The Des Plaines city council is split on whether to fund a $150,000 study that could pave the way for pedestrians and bicyclists to access the city's downtown from the northwest side of town.

The infamous Northwest Highway S-curve, leading into downtown, goes under a Union Pacific/Canadian National Railway bridge, but there's no sidewalk. The proposed study would determine how a pedestrian underpass might be constructed beneath the bridge.

That underpass could cost anywhere between $10 million and $15 million to construct, with 80 percent of the funds likely coming from federal sources, city officials say.

The underpass has been discussed for years, and several local and regional plans have suggested it as a way to improve access to downtown, but funding questions and red tape have delayed more serious consideration.

At their third and final city budget hearing this week, aldermen took a 4-3 straw poll vote to remove funding for a feasibility study from the budget, though a key supporter of the study, Alderman Denise Rodd, was absent. And it's possible Mayor Matt Bogusz could vote to break a tie of the council.

Final adoption of the $150 million budget will take place Nov. 16.

"This has been something that's been bandied about for years - the lack of access to the downtown area from the northwest side of the city," said Alderman Don Smith, whose 7th Ward includes the S-curve. "You've got to do the feasibility study. I think the time has come to start this, to get it going."

But Alderman Dick Sayad said constructing an underpass would cost a "tremendous" amount of money, and Alderman Malcolm Chester said it would be wise to delay consideration a year until there's a clearer picture of the city's financial condition.

Also this week, aldermen agreed to reduce the amount budgeted for lobbying services from $110,000 to $60,000. That should be enough to pay for the city's remaining lobbyist hired to work against gambling expansion in Springfield. Des Plaines isn't renewing its agreements with McGuireWoods Consulting and Government Consulting Services of Illinois, but the council is expected to approve a contract on Nov. 16 to retain lobbyist Alfred Ronan, officials say.

The council also agreed to fund an additional $25,000 to accelerate curb and gutter replacements, for a total of $175,000 next year. And the city is budgeting $500,000 for sidewalk replacement.

Those projects could be delayed if the state doesn't remit motor fuel tax money currently held in the state budget impasse.

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