Homeowner's reaction to I-294 project: 'We are being railroaded' by the tollway
As a $4 billion Central Tri-State (I-294) widening gathers speed, some residents in the crosshairs of the project feel like they've been bulldozed.
"It's been almost a full year of gnawing stress," said Hinsdale resident Yvonne O'Connor, who lives just west of I-294.
O'Connor and her husband bought their spacious, airy home on Columbia Avenue 15 years ago. At the time, the tollway had just completed a building program and it seemed the perfect place to raise their four boys, she said.
But in 2017, tollway leaders advanced an ambitious plan to expand I-294 between Rosemont and Oak Lawn. Corridor design is 60 percent complete and would add two lanes in each direction between the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) and I-55, which encompasses Oak Brook and Hinsdale.
Nothing is final, but the O'Connors said officials told them the tollway needs to buy 20 to 25 feet of wooded land the family owns east of their home along the tollway.
"I feel we are being railroaded by the Illinois tollway but I don't want to go down without a fight," said O'Connor, a nurse anesthetist.
Tollway leaders say drivers need the widening project. The Tri-State is "the workhorse of the tollway system," Deputy Chief of Engineering for Planning Rocco Zucchero said Friday.
"It's also one of most congested roads we have. The intent of the project is to provide a lot of congestion relief, new access in communities and fix some of the existing access points."
The O'Connors fear their home's value would drop significantly with the tollway so much closer. They doubt the tollway will offer enough to make up for that.
O'Connor had envisioned downsizing in the future but intended to stay in her house until her sons, the youngest of whom is 12, finish high school. Now, she'd rather be bought out -- a choice the tollway isn't providing.
The tollway is empathetic, Zucchero said, but "we've got to be conscious of how toll dollars are being spent. We can't just go along buying homes" unnecessarily.
But if homeowners want to include diminished property values as part of a compensation package, the tollway is willing to listen, he said.
A noise wall, berm and trees buffer the cacophony of the Tri-State in O'Connor's backyard. She and neighbors worry about flooding after the tollway regrades the land and removes trees, as well as increased din during and after construction.
Neighbors also are concerned the tollway will remove the sound wall and leave them without a replacement during construction, which could stretch out for months.
The tollway will build a drainage system to convey runoff from I-294 and replace an existing ditch to handle groundwater, officials said. Erecting a noise wall is problematic during construction but could be feasible depending on the location, Zucchero said.
Another irritation for O'Connor and neighbor Justin Bouchard are strangers popping up unexpectedly on their property.
One worker "peered in the window and scared my wife," Bouchard noted.
No one should be surprised when workers show up, tollway officials said. The village of Hinsdale and residents are informed of visits by letter, and surveyors or other employees are told to knock on doors to announce their presence. Anyone with concerns should reach out to designated contact people or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We've tried to be as communicative as possible on this project," Zucchero said, pointing to a list of emails, meetings and phone calls with Columbia Avenue homeowners.
But many in the neighborhood are frustrated and tired by the upheaval in their busy lives, O'Connor and Bouchard said.
"We're not here to make money on this. We just want it to be fair," O'Connor said.
Got an opinion on the Tri-State widening? Drop an email to email@example.com.
Responding to a column on proposed fee hikes for electric vehicle owners to fund transportation, reader Steve Duenser writes, "electric car owners already pay 'fuel' taxes via their electric bills. The proposal to implement additional taxation on electric vehicles would favor combustion vehicles that are more polluting and less efficient. This does not make sense from a responsible public policy perspective."
Learn all about electrics, hybrids and alternate fuels Thursday when the Chicago Area Clean Cities group hosts its annual Green Drives Conference and Expo. The event is at the NIU Conference Center, 1120 E. Diehl Road in Naperville.
For more information, go to chicagocleancities.org/green-drives.
Give yourself extra time if heading to O'Hare International Airport starting Monday, May 13. IDOT is resurfacing I-190 at Mannheim Road and will institute partial ramp closures during the day.
The work continues through June.