Officials ask why Route 53 bridge project doesn't consider Bears at Arlington Park
Rolling Meadows officials are questioning why a state-led project to rehabilitate bridges along Route 53 doesn't include a larger-scale reconstruction of at least one of those bridges to accommodate the future redevelopment of Arlington Park.
The $54 million Illinois Department of Transportation project would upgrade 10 bridges between Algonquin Road and Rand Road -- a stretch that includes Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights and Palatine.
One of those exits, Euclid Avenue in Rolling Meadows, already is challenged by "dangerous and inefficient geometry," with little room to accelerate or decelerate as drivers are getting on and off Route 53, city engineers wrote in a 2020 letter to IDOT.
Now, as the state agency wraps up its initial engineering and environmental studies and is seeking additional input from local municipalities about the project, Rolling Meadows officials are again raising issue with the bridge design and geometry at Euclid -- which would be one of the main exits to a potential new Chicago Bears stadium at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights.
The NFL franchise has inked a $197.2 million purchase agreement for the 326-acre racetrack property, but it's not a done deal, and a closing could be another year away amid the ongoing due diligence period.
Still, the possibility of the Bears as neighbors -- and what it would mean for traffic and infrastructure -- was the elephant in the room during the Rolling Meadows City Council's review of the Route 53 bridge project Tuesday night.
"My concern is Euclid Avenue, and I'm sure we're probably all (thinking) the same thing," said Alderman Jenifer Vinezeano. "The state's going to come in and make these adjustments, and I know we don't have a magic 8 ball, but knowing that something is going at Arlington, do we think that the plan that they are proposing here is going to adequately suffice what the traffic needs are going to be? Because we already know the traffic flow is horrible now.
"So now bring in several hundred thousand cars on a weekend. How is that going to impact? Or are we going to have to review this again in two years and redo the section?
"We don't want to have to redo this project twice because it doesn't meet our needs," Vinezeano said.
Ryan Lindeman, a construction engineer with city consultant Christopher B. Burke Engineering, said IDOT officials told him the scope of the project is limited to the rehabilitation of bridges -- including beams, wearing surfaces, parapet walls, approach pavements -- but no geometric changes.
"They don't have a magic 8 ball to know what will happen with that redevelopment," Lindeman told Vinezeano during the council committee discussion. "If more information becomes available with the development, I'm certain they would have to take that into account. And I'm sure the city would be on them to figure out how their plans could be modified to accommodate such a development if it were to happen."
Planning for the bridge rehab began in 2018, and the next-phase design of the improvements could take into 2023, with actual construction being completed in 2026 or 2027, city officials said.
That's also likely the earliest time a new Bears stadium could be completed, experts say.
But for now, IDOT officials have told city leaders they're amenable to any city-requested aesthetic enhancements to the bridges, such as naming and branding signage or stamped concrete that would welcome drivers to Rolling Meadows.
Aldermen agreed they'd especially like to see welcome signage on the Euclid bridge. Of the five bridges in Rolling Meadows, it's the only one that goes over Route 53, and is traversed by 100,000 cars a day.
The city would pay for any upgraded signage, and cost estimates would be developed through the upcoming design process.