Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More Years of Waiting on Local Underpass Construction, According to IDOT Letter

In a neighborhood long fed up with traffic tie-ups caused by trains---and sometimes cynical after hearing literally decades' worth of promises broken by local politicians---a handful of local men and women heard an update from state officials on Monday evening.

The update was delivered to an audience of 19 at a meeting of the Garfield Ridge Civic League. It was in the form of a letter from the Illinois Department of Transportation to State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-11th), who now represents Garfield Ridge and Clearing after the recent remap, and shared by Joe Garcia, Sandoval's chief of staff.

Sandoval himself was not there, Garcia explained, because he is at a legislative conference in Mexico.

The letter from IDOT was a little over a month old and was in response to a letter that Sandoval had sent on December 12, requesting a briefing on progress with installing grade separations (such as underpasses) at various railroad crossings---specifically:

** 65th Street, just east of Harlem
** 55th Street, just west of Central
** Central Avenue, just north of 54th Street
** 55th Street, just east of Central Park.

IDOT's response only mentioned two of the four crossings. They made no mention of what, if any, progress has been made on 55th Street just west of Central, and 55th Street just east of Central Park.

Regarding the railroad crossing at Central Avenue just north of 54th Street, IDOT said that the project is in the first phase of design; and that phase will not be completed before 2015. IDOT offered no word on how many phases are in the entire process or how many years it would take for an underpass to actually be built or with what specific funds.

The IDOT update offered a similar "2015 or later" outlook for the rail crossing at Archer and Kenton, a crossing not mentioned by Sandoval.

Garcia confers with Chuck Shilney.
Regarding the crossing near 65th and Harlem, IDOT admitted that "no work has yet begun."

Garcia did not explain why Sandoval did not request an IDOT briefing on other local rail crossings that cause traffic tie-ups, such as 63rd and Harlem, 59th and Narragansett, and 59th and Austin.

The IDOT letter also noted that an underpass is under construction on 71st Street (several blocks west of Harlem, by Toyota Park in suburban Bridgeview)---a sore point for many Garfield Ridge and Clearing residents who have bitterly complained (correctly or not) that the same politicians who have long promised relief to Garfield Ridge and Clearing have instead used their muscle to get that underpass done first.

In response to a question, Garcia said he was not immediately aware of what progress, if any, has been made on the proposed Central Avenue Overpass, which would link Clearing with Bedford Park and Burbank---a project that has been the subject of on-again/off-again political promises going all the way back to 1946.

Clearing resident Chuck Shilney, a longtime neighborhood advocate and critic of railroad companies, voiced skepticism that the overpass would be built during Sandoval's current term of office.

Garcia and Rick Techman
Garcia responded to Shilney and others by saying that Sandoval shares the community's concerns about rail-related traffic delays. He assured the audience that the senator would stay on the issue. "He's a stand-up guy," Garcia said. "He built five different schools and paved streets (in his old district). There's a reason he's called El Caballo---he's a workhorse. He's going to take care of it. He's not going to pass the buck to the next state senator."

In other matters discussed at the meeting:

** In response to a question about plans to cut pension benefits of government workers, Garcia said that Sandoval opposes cutting the pension benefits of retired government workers. "The deal you start with is the deal you get," he said. He did not comment on proposals to reduce benefits for current government workers.

** In response to an audience member's claim that returning servicemen are not receiving the health care and job opportunities they deserve, Garcia said "It is unfortunate that our servicemen aren't being taken care of."

** Garcia praised audience members for playing an active role in community improvement. He talked about his own commitment by noting that he and his family moved back to the neighborhood where he spent his earliest years (Little Village), saying "It is what it is today" and "I live in the worst part of the district" but play an active role in rebuilding the community.

** In response to an audience member who complained about what she sees as the state's failure to identify and crack down on Link card abuse, Garcia agreed that the issue is one of concern and pointed out that when he left his private-sector position as a Hyatt Hotel manager and accepted a job in government, he took a $35,000 pay cut. He added that unlike some others in government, he has no outside employment---and with a family to support, he claimed he would qualify for a Link card. "I could apply for one, and I would get it; but I refuse to get one," he stated.

** GRCL President Rick Techman thanked Garcia and expressed hope that Sandoval himself will speak before the group in the months ahead. Techman also reminded the group about the GRCL's "Spontaneous Sunday" event planned for February 24 at Danny's Pizza. Details can be found on the GRCL website.

** Longtime neighborhood advocate Mary Shilney encouraged everyone to attend the next CAPS Beat 812 meeting, set for 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, February 13 at the Clearing Branch Library; and that the Clearing Night Force neighborhood watch group will host a "gang awareness" event on Tuesday, March 19 at Hale School. Details will be made public as they are set.

** It was noted that the next meeting of the Clearing Civic League is set for 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, February 19 at Hale Park. (The meeting was moved to the third Tuesday because the second Tuesday is a holiday and the room was not available.)

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  1. Obviously these types of improvements are welcome and certainly a convenience to locals, but I rather doubt they are a priority. Who did not move into or grow up in this neighborhood and not understand this is what you get? It is like complaining that there is aircraft noise and insisting that Midway do something about it. In the meanwhile there are existing overpasses and other infrastructure that are deteriorating and would be a decided priority over our convenience..

  2. We can and should expect improvements. Using Ed's logic an oldtimer who moved into Clearing in 1920 should have never expected paved roads. By the same token, hw could they have seen the development and increased usage of Midway.

    Fact is train traffic has greatly increased since I moved here. The rail corporations are truly negligent in the upkeep of crossings. We should continue to demand improved ingress and egress in the neighborhood and not just chalk it up to "it is what it is" nonsense.

  3. The city has been buying up property along Central from Archer Ave. south to 65th Street, west of Central. Midway was originally planned to extend to I-55 at its inception - the city's goals include expansion. Central Ave. will be an underpass from Archer south through Bedford Park, extending south well past 65th Street.

    And Sandoval is as effective as every other State rep from Chicago. That is, ineffective. Thank goodness that as an IL senator he attended a "legislative conference" in Mexico. The correlation is so clear (sarcasm).

  4. The Central Avenue Overpass has been talked about since 1946....Toyota Park gets a railroad over pass in three years... what is wrong with this picture...????????

  5. Can someone explain to me how Garcia would qualify for a link card?

    I have a brother with a learning disability who makes maybe $200 a week if that and is repeatedy denied.