I-355 overpass screens aimed at discouraging protesters vandalized

  • Screening intended to obscure the view of political protesters and increase safety was vandalized recently on the Great Western Trail overpass of I-355.

    Screening intended to obscure the view of political protesters and increase safety was vandalized recently on the Great Western Trail overpass of I-355. Courtesy of DuPage County

  • DuPage County has increased patrols on the Great Western Trail and Prairie Path overpasses of I-355 after several cases of vandalism.

    DuPage County has increased patrols on the Great Western Trail and Prairie Path overpasses of I-355 after several cases of vandalism. Courtesy of DuPage County

 
 
Updated 5/5/2016 9:41 PM

Screens on an I-355 overpass that ignited a free speech vs. public safety debate were slashed recently, and it wasn't the first time, DuPage County officials said Thursday.

County workers erected the dark-colored screening March 8 on the Great Western Trail and Prairie Path overpasses near Glen Ellyn after receiving complaints from drivers about political protesters disrupting traffic on I-355.

 

Since the netting went up it's been slashed and ripped at least three times, including someone cutting out a happy face. The most recent occurrence was April 29.

DuPage officials said the vandalism is no joke. The screening cost $4,500 to install, and repair crews have spent about 10 hours fixing rips.

Activists with signs and banners are a familiar sight during spring and summer on the overpasses near Roosevelt Road.

Overpasses for America member Fred Schneider said his group had no part in the vandalism and usually informs police when it is planning an appearance.

When the group demonstrated April 19, "there were several rips in (the screening) before we ever arrived. Let me be clear here: We do things legally, lawfully and constitutionally," Schneider said.

The screening was added to reduce distractions for drivers on I-355, spokeswoman Joan Olson said.

"I'm all for everyone's right to free speech," county board member and Transportation Committee Chairman Donald Puchalski said. But waving signs on an expressway where people are going 60 mph creates a safety problem, he said. "It is an issue, and the state police said it was an issue."

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Obstructing the view of the signs violates the First Amendment, Schneider said.

The county is increasing patrols on the trail to check for damage.

"We have better things to do with taxpayers' money than look for people committing property damage," said Puchalski, an Addison Republican.

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