IDOT Failed to Inform People of Highway Ramp That Will Roar By Their Home

Condo board president David Lewis shows the approximate height of the top of the retaining wall that would be 7.5 feet away from the building
David Lewis shows where the top of the flyover wall would be. All landscaping here would be removed. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/tags/circleinterchange/##More images related to this post are available##.

The Circle Interchange expansion project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has crammed into the regional planning process is projected to increase pollution and decrease transit ridership, but no one has more reason to be opposed to the project than the 57 families who live at 400 South Green.

Until one month ago, IDOT had not informed residents of the building, located on the north bank of the Eisenhower Expressway, that they could soon have a new neighbor: a 40-foot-wide flyover over Halsted Street, with 40,000 cars and trucks roaring by every day, 7.5 feet away from their building.

There is a better way to build the ramp, placing it underneath Halstead instead of next to people’s homes. Now that the Circle Interchange project is assured of a place in the regional plan, this is one of several fixes that will be needed to make it less harmful.

Residents of 400 South Green only found out about the proposed highway ramp in the beginning of March. It’s part of IDOT’s “preferred alternative,” known as “alternative 7.1C” [PDF]. The residents, who were never invited to the Project Working Group meetings, are asking IDOT to consider another design, “alternative 15.4” [PDF], which eschews a flyover and places the ramp under Halsted.

No other building, aside from a pumping station and a storage warehouse, comes so close to any new flyover – and all the noise, visual blight, and pollution that comes with it – in IDOT’s preferred alternative. Making matters worse, residents are recovering from highway-related damage, having recently spent $250,000 to shore up the building’s structure after constant vibrations from trucks hitting potholes in the Ike.

IMG_0008
400 S Green Street residences. The trees would be replaced by a flyover. Photo by Arlene Manelli.

The Ike is currently 18 feet below street level and 58 feet away from the building, with a line of trees that shields the first and second floors from traffic noise. Those trees would all be removed to accommodate the flyover. IDOT doesn’t consider the projected noise level to be high enough to require the construction of any noise mitigation.

“Our biggest concern is quality of life,” said condominium association board president David Lewis, who works from home. “Our second concern is how to protect the building from the new construction of pylons and closer truck traffic,” Lewis explained, referring to the recent foundation fixes. “We’ve learned to live with the existing noise. We knew it was there when we moved in. But now [IDOT] is changing the rules.”

According to IDOT project manager Steven Schilke, it’s the policy of the Federal Highway Administration to measure existing noise at the nearest building entrance and not the nearest apartment or window. This policy effectively ignores the impact a project would have on urban, multi-unit apartment buildings, where residences can be much closer to a proposed roadway than any entrance.

Arlene Manelli has lived in the building for 19 years and is disappointed with how the residents were treated in the planning process. “The Circle Interchange project website text and documents stress the need to include stakeholders and have open communication,” she said. “I’m appalled at the unfairness of this. I don’t understand how they didn’t find us. We should have been contacted directly.”

The Stakeholder Involvement Plan [PDF], issued in August 2012, doesn’t list the 400 South Green lofts (map). Schilke couldn’t find them in the list of 95 groups that were invited to the initial public meeting and subsequent “Project Working Group” meetings. Schilke said that even though the residents weren’t included in the initial meetings, IDOT is now working with the residents at 400 South Green.

The agency sent flyers to the residents in early March. “IDOT’s had two years to put this plan together [since Governor Quinn asked IDOT to fast track it past CMAP] and we’ve had two weeks,” said Lewis.

When they finally did get a meeting with IDOT project consultant Paul Schneider on March 20, however, Lewis said it was productive. “They sent the right guy,” he said. “He listened to what we had to say and we appreciate that a lot.”

One option that would work better for building residents is to put the ramp under Halsted, known as “alternative 15.4.” According to IDOT, alternative 15.4 adds $8 million to the project cost. However, reducing the number of flyovers in the project from three to two would be advantageous for the city.

“I walk a mile to the Metra station,” Manelli said. “Have I considered moving closer to work, 40 miles away? No. I love this building. I’m concerned that the people on the Project Working Group don’t have the urban dweller’s perspective.”

Flyovers, or overpasses, degrade the pedestrian environment. “From a pedestrian point of view, I avoid overpasses,” said Manelli. “They are darker and they have higher amounts of dirt and exhaust that gets trapped.”

Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke agrees with the residents about the negative impacts of IDOT’s preferred scenario. “They made it look all pretty, but how does that affect the overall sense of the community?” he said. “Does it become a car-dominated, unappealing place to be?”

It looks like moving the ramp is at least under consideration at IDOT. “We’re currently looking at a number of options to revising the geometry to move it away from the building,” Schilke said.

Call to Action

To learn about the latest Circle Interchange plans and voice your opinion, come to IDOT’s public hearing on Wednesday afternoon at 625 S Ashland from 4 to 7 p.m. Contact your state legislator, additionally – find their contact information.

  • 7.5 feet away with no noise mitigation? Yikes!

  • No noise mitigation for this “common noise environment” (IDOT’s term) was proposed. And when it is proposed, 33% of “benefited receptors” must respond and 50% of those who respond must say they want the noise mitigation proposal (it could be a wall or something else) before IDOT will build it.

    In this case, all you could build is a wall and then you’d lose the sunlight! What’s better? Hearing trucks or seeing the sun?

  • Joseph Musco

    Great reporting Steven.

  • John

    Trees are fairly useless in terms of noise mitigation.

  • Show me how that’s the case.

    Even if so, they have myriad other benefits.

  • Thank you, Joe.

  • Bob H

    I understand the residents want to be involved, and they should be. But, these people chose to purchase a residence that is next to one of the most congested interchanges in the world. And they do not own the property IDOT plans to use. Its hard to use the NIMBY stance when the problem was already there.
    I prefer sunlight over a wall, if I had a choice.

  • With all due respect, did you look at the link included in the second paragraph? There’s a huge difference between having a massive highway 58 feet away from your building vs. 7.5 feet away. These residents have acknowledged that they bought in a busy, noisy area and can live with that, but I agree with them that this is a huge change. That’s not even to mention the valid concerns about construction so close to their building potentially affecting its structure, as well as the long-term harm from vibrations of trucks nearby. I hope their concerns are heard, and that IDOT responds accordingly.

  • Many of the residents have been living here since the building was purchased and converted from its manufacturing use to condo use in 1986, including David Lewis (pictured). At this time, the Circle Interchange was not the most congested interchange in the world. And neither was there a regional plan that listed infrastructure changes that were identified in a six-year planning process so they could know what kind of neighborhood they were buying into.

    Then, in 2005, such a six-year regional planning process began and the Circle Interchange expansion project was not identified as a priority for the region. Yet, Quinn + IDOT shoved it through CMAP’s multi-committee vetting system and didn’t even invite the residents that would be most impacted by the structure of this project.

    In essence, the residents should have been better protected now, by the six-year regional planning process, over the risk they took in buying the place in 1986. But that didn’t happen. Things are still effed up 30 years later.

  • John

    That is a superb People Looking Angry in Local Newspaper shot of comrade Lewis. Well done.

  • John

    Need 200 ft of dense vegetation for 10 dB reduction. Less effective than walls and impractical given space constraints in urban areas. Trees do have visual and psychological benefits though.
    Source: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/noise/regulations_and_guidance/polguide/polguide05.cfm

  • Anonymous

    It is a mistake for opponents of IDOT’s preferred Circle Interchange
    project not to connect the dots to the parallel I-290 project.

    Rather than seeking to accommodate ever-increasing volumes of traffic — an impossible job, particularly where the investments we make generate traffic and induce demand — we should be trying to make non-auto modes competitive with driving, thereby maximizing efficient use of existing road capacity while at the same time helping the commuting public make their connections more economical and reliable.

    The proposed solution sharing a west border with the Circle Interchange project is designed and intended to help a small proportion of I-290 users to move more rapidly between Mannheim and the Circle by way of a priced lane. It is also designed and intended to bring thousands more cars onto the expressway.

    Users of the I-290 add-a-lane/take-away-a-lane need to be able to make it through the Circle, otherwise what will happen to the HOT (special tolled access) lane when cars have nowhere to go at the east end of the facility? Well, it seems reasonable that if nothing is done at the Circle to try to move them through there that they will back-up as they hit the Circle and a stop light just beyond that, right? Of course, though IDOT has steadfastly refused to accept that as a valid question or concern; they did, however, quickly launch the new Circle Interchange project and managed to get it fast-tracked. The I-290 project is about a decade into planning, incidentally. The Circle, well it looks like the fast food of transportation projects, flying through planning and on to construction. A few residents upset about a ramp? No problem – they’ve stream-rolled more worthy opponents.

    Alternatives discussed in the I-290 project include those that do not require highway expansion and, by extension, would reduce the value of adding lanes at the Circle. Not surprisingly, IDOT has a long tradition of using Divide and Conquer strategies, by pitting communities against one another and isolating opposition groups through project segmentation. It is a red herring sort of approach. Most people are primarily concerned about what happens to them individually when a personal threat is presented, and much less concerned about the broader changes and impacts the same threat presents. Show an individual a significant personal impact (but tiny in the context of the broader plan) and when they get excited about it, listen and do something to appease their concerns. They’ll feel like they’ve won and will walk away from the broader conversation feeling like a winner, or at least not a complete loser. That’s what IDOT and their consultants hope.

    IDOT’s approach includes not letting opposition get a good look at the project, and taking measures to avoid organized opposition. The last thing they want is a groundswell of public opinion questioning their broader plans.

    Rather than spend boatloads of cash to place I-290 on artificial life support for the next 50 years, perhaps we should recognize the facility for what it is: A 20th century relic that still serves a purpose but is not worth improving at the margins, if at all. We simply can’t add enough lanes to make it free flow at all times, and we can’t even impact roughly 50% of the causes of congestion no matter what we do to it. That isn’t conjecture, but rather observations gleaned from IDOT’s own analysis.

    Why, then, spend a couple billion to undertake such an ill-advised public investment — one that will last 50 or more years. What is the opportunity cost of choosing not to build something else instead? Something that is more consistent with current and future transportation needs, i.e., improving and expanding legitimate transit alternatives and creating ped and biking amenities that people will actually be able to use…safely?

    We have the best highway network in the world, yet our pedestrian, bike, and transit networks reflect uncoordinated planning and under-investment. One of the non-highway expansion I-290 alternatives combines transit and pricing existing lanes to generate a 40% reduction in congestion across *all* I-290 lanes, not just a limited access special lane for comparatively few pass-through commuters. IDOT represents it does so by shifting traffic to arterials, but is that true? It seems that arterials are already crowded during peak periods and can’t possibly absorb 40% of I-290 traffic. It seems that commuters would need to explore shifting to transit and/or relocating closer to places of employment. IDOT says nothing is ever as it seems – there is a lot going on in their models, though they will not say what. Just believe – a highway expansion is the only way to solve our problems, IDOT and their models say.

    IDOT models indicate that even with significant transit investment, like a Blue Line extension to Mannheim with a transfer hub to real bus rapid transit running between Naperville, Oak Brook, and Schaumburg, that transit ridership will decline in the next couple decades. Even with road pricing to help induce mode shift. Even with rising fuel costs. Even as people – especially young people – move to urban areas with abundant transit access. Yes, even as the population ages and becomes unable to drive, driving will increase and transit will decrease. Transit ridership – they say – will continue to erode over time no matter what we do, and no matter what foreseeable changes exist in the world around us, while auto ridership, on the other hand will perpetually increase. People will continue to driver father and for longer periods of time as the decades pass – but look at the bright side, they’ll be traveling faster, IDOT models say.

    Do you believe that? Sounds like a winner to me . . . not.

    Why isn’t transit competitive in IDOT’s vision of the future? Why don’t bike and ped facilities have any impact or measurable benefits in IDOT’s calculus? Well, could it be that IDOT’s blind adherence to the notion that past results are virtually the sole predictor of future performance renders them incapable of fathoming changes in human behavior or cultural shifts based upon significant deviations in the opportunities presented to them and/or the costs attached to the choices they make?

    Why don’t people still live in caves, IDOT?

    The last time that I checked, my investment disclosure indicated, “Past Results Do Not Guarantee Future Performance”; however, that logic does not apply to IDOT investments. Instead, its antithesis — that past results absolutely determine future performance — forms the cornerstone of the IDOT investment strategy. While a proven hazardous approach to investing, IDOT does not have to be concerned about future returns on investment, as they’re not accountable for them. In a twisted fiscal reality, IDOTs continued wealth and well-being is tied to perpetuating negative return on investment. The more roads they reconstruct and expand, the more auto travel they create, and the more congestion that arises, the more work they need to do . . . and the more money the enormous road building industry rakes in.

    It should not take 2+ hours to travel by transit from Columbus Park (Austin’s west side) to Brookfield zoo (less than 7 miles away), while at the same time we focus on spending billions on *trying* to shave two minutes off a 30+ mile highway trip. Goroo’s best alternative for the Austin/Brookfield trip is three buses and one train, relying on transfers between three service providers to get there. If all works perfectly, and it never does, then it is a 74 minute trip – more likely, two to three hours . . . one way.

    Now let’s see…do we need to pursue a potential marginal gain in highway travel time, or address a real problem with our transit network? Houston, we’ve got a problem.

    The problem, of course, is that not every problem is a nail nor every solution a hammer – all IDOT has is hammers, so they need every problem to be a nail.

  • Anonymous

    I experience a “common noise environment” every time I hear their consultants trying to prop-up IDOTs ill-advised plans.

  • Anonymous

    It seems we can’t see the forest for the trees.

  • At the IDOT public hearing on April 3, they pretty much said the same thing. Whatever.

    The point is that IDOT didn’t measure noise where residents are living and didn’t propose mitigation measures. The measures would probably be a wall, giving residents the choice between the parapet of the flyover as their wall with noise, or a taller wall but with lower noise.

  • Anonymous

    The IDOT often fails to do what they should do. There are so many instances of non-compliance with statutory requirements that one can’t help but think that it is by design.

    They are impervious to constructive criticism and not accountable for their actions. That needs to change.

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