No consensus on building an underpass at S-curve in Des Plaines

Des Plaines leaders remain divided on whether to spend more than $1 million on a walkway beneath the infamous Northwest Highway S-curve.

The city council heard a preliminary report Monday from a consultant they hired in April to investigate options for providing pedestrian and bicycle access through or around the Union Pacific and Wisconsin Central railroad bridges, located just northwest of downtown Des Plaines.

Of five alternatives, the engineering firm V3 Cos. recommends construction of an 8-foot-wide path on the north side of Northwest Highway that goes under both railroad bridges and is separated from car traffic by a railing and guardrail. A retaining wall would be built between the path and embankment. No changes would be required to the Union Pacific bridge, but the plan would require the reconstruction of the Wisconsin Central bridge.

Total project engineering, right-of-way and construction costs are estimated to be $4.4 million, of which almost $3.4 million could be covered by grants and a little over $1 million would be paid by the city, officials said.

That cost - and whether the city could be better spending its money elsewhere - was questioned by Aldermen Dick Sayad, Malcolm Chester and Jim Brookman.

"This is a very limited benefit," Brookman said. "It really only impacts a very small part of the city. The vast majority of the city will not benefit from this project at all."

Supporters of the project, including Mayor Matt Bogusz and Aldermen Denise Rodd, Mike Charewicz and Don Smith, disagreed. Some suggested the cost could be budgeted over a number of years since the underpass wouldn't be built until 2021. The cost is also less than the initial $10 million to $15 million estimates.

"I've heard for years and years how residents in the northwest part of the city are cut off from the downtown area in terms of pedestrian access," said Smith, whose 7th Ward includes the S-curve. "I think the cost of this is justifiable."

The council is expected to vote on whether to commit $250,000 for phase one project engineering at its final budget meeting Oct. 26.

Des Plaines OKs study for pedestrian underpass

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