DuPage considering moving traffic court out of Downers Grove

Amid concerns about security, DuPage County Board members are considering closing the Downers Grove traffic court.

But a decision on whether to open a new satellite location - or move cases to the main courthouse in Wheaton - may depend on the willingness of municipalities to help pay for a field court in southeast DuPage.

The Downers Grove traffic court in American Legion Post 80 on Saratoga Avenue "is no longer a long-term viable option," said Grant Eckhoff, chairman of the county board's judicial and public safety committee.

On Tuesday, the committee discussed - but didn't vote on - two possible options. The first is to move the traffic court from Downers Grove to a new police station planned for Woodridge. The second is to bring the cases to the DuPage County courthouse.

The county's existing lease at the Legion post is set to expire in February 2023. But officials say the location is no longer viable because of security concerns.

After reviewing alternatives, the county has an opportunity to move the traffic court to Woodridge because the village plans to build a new police station on Janes Avenue, north of 75th Street.

Woodridge and the county have talked about adding a roughly 3,300-square-foot multipurpose space that would serve as a field court and as a community room when court isn't in session.

Officials say the space would be secure and have enough parking for the 75 to 125 people who visit the Downers Grove site during each court call. Another benefit is that the station will be less than a mile from I-355 and 75th Street.

However, DuPage would need to contribute roughly $1.3 million to pay for the construction of the multipurpose space. It also would need to sign a 20-year lease and pay an annual maintenance fee.

The Woodridge proposal is estimated to cost the county roughly $3.19 million over 20 years, which is significantly less expensive than keeping the Downers Grove site.

But simply moving cases to the main courthouse in Wheaton would cost the county an estimated $457,432.

Some board members say the difference in cost between opening a new field court in Woodridge and bringing cases to Wheaton makes the decision "a no brainer."

Still, when the county last talked about doing that four years ago, police chiefs from southeast DuPage lobbied against it. The chiefs argued that moving the field court to Wheaton would require their officers to spend more time traveling.

Board member Julie Renehan, a Hinsdale Democrat, said she's already spoken to mayors, village managers and police officials who oppose the change.

Board member Jim Zay said the county doesn't have the money to open the proposed traffic court in Woodridge. The Carol Stream Republican said DuPage would need to dip into its cash reserves to raise the $1.3 million.

"I have no problem with Woodridge," Zay said. "Find me $1.3 million that doesn't come out of our reserves."

If municipalities in southeast DuPage want a field court in their area, some say they should help pay for it.

Since a field court is a convenience for the municipalities, board member Tim Elliott said, they "ought to be financially contributing to the solution they're requesting."

"I can't get behind this concept at all unless we see the municipalities ... at the table with us," the Glen Ellyn Republican said.

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