The Case of IDOT’s Mysterious Extra Highway Lane

Alternative 15.4 somehow got an extra lane
At an April 3 public hearing, IDOT showed a version of Alternative 15.4 -- the option that doesn't include a noisy, blighting flyover above Halsted Street -- with six lanes, and ruled out building it. Previously this option called for five lanes at this location (see map below) and the agency had said it would consider building it.

In a move that has baffled and frustrated residents of 400 S Green Street, the Illinois Department of Transportation has apparently ruled out a version of the Circle Interchange expansion project that would avoid building a new, elevated highway ramp above Halsted Street. At an April 3 hearing on the project, IDOT told residents the option to avoid building the flyover, known as Alternative 15.4, was “off the table, not even being considered,” according to condo board president David Lewis.

Lewis said that during an earlier meeting in March with IDOT’s Paul Schneider, the agency said that Alternative 15.4 was still acceptable. Something else changed between the March meeting and the April meeting: IDOT added a lane to the westbound side of I-290 in Alternative 15.4.

Previously, the agency had always shown five lanes where westbound I-290 passes 400 S Green, as you can see in the map of 15.4 shown below. At the April meeting, the agency showed a drawing where that section of the highway had six lanes.

There are currently five lanes on I-290 next to 400 S Green, and the agency’s “preferred alternative” — which includes the Halsted flyover and would generate a lot of noise next to residences — also calls for five lanes on this section of the highway. Streetsblog has submitted multiple requests to IDOT seeking an explanation for the addition of the sixth lane in the option that doesn’t include building a flyover. The agency has not responded.

While today is the last day for public comment on the Circle Interchange project, the case of the extra highway lane raises serious questions about why IDOT has ruled out the version of the project without the Halsted flyover. Why was the sixth lane added? If the design without a flyover still called for five lanes, how would that change the cost of the project? Answers from IDOT have been in short supply.

Until April, IDOT was showing maps of "alternative 15.4" with five lanes on westbound I-290 where the highway passes by 400 S Green Street. The cross section shown at the top of the post is marked in red on the map. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/8658610938/in/photostream##View a larger version of this image##.
  • Anonymous

    The IDOT consultants indicated at the outset of their public discussions that they would be examining how to get a new HOV/HOT lane through the Circle – maybe that is one way they are thinking they’ll do it.

  • I asked them about this (HOV/HOT) at the public hearing and the response was, “We are designing the Circle Interchange in such a way as to not preclude any kind of future development”. They didn’t say they were trying to put it in there.

    Any design of anything will preclude some kind of future development.

  • Anonymous

    At that point their consultants had already explicitly stated that was part of their charge – to see how they can get an HOV/HOT lane through the Circle . . .

  • Anonymous

    Also, did they mention that modeling indicates there will be thousands of extra cars and trucks coming to I-290 following completion of their work? No worries, though, as they’ll all be going much faster – about 40% faster, according to IDOT.

    That’s the golden ring – more cars and trucks going faster and traveling farther.

    IDOT’s vision of the future is wed to its understanding of the past. Their modeling of project benefits assumes that the sprawl our region has experienced over past decades will continue into the foreseeable future. Therefore, our investments – which last generations – must support sprawl traffic patterns.

    I think they skipped class on the day the teacher taught the rest of us about self-fulfilling prophecies.

    IDOT knows nothing of future development – they simply know how to guarantee that road building is a big part of it . . . by not being held accountable for the consequences of what they build today. Their claims of project benefits are grossly over-stated, their method of collecting and incorporating public feedback is superficial, and their conclusions severely skewed in favor of pre-determined road-oriented solutions.

    Public engagement is little more than a dog and pony show because the public allows them to get away with it. Every problem is defined the same way, and every solution the same. It is as though every time there is a major investment, the public speaks in unanimous support for road expansion.

    How can that possibly be true?

    Major IDOT studies read like plagiarized novels, and bad ones at that. Hey, haven’t I read this before? The highway is past its useful life. There are too many crashes. There are design deficiencies that must be corrected. The road is too congested. We need to reconstruct and expand the highway. Oh, by the way, be sure to classify it as a “fix-it-first” and safety improvement project because that makes us look like good public stewards. That’s the story line. It is repeated over and over . . . and the results are always the same.

    The cover of the April 1966 Asphalt Weekly, a road-building trade association publication, included the following four items on a circular tail-chasing arrows diagram depicting the road-building cycle:

    1. “Deep strength asphalt provides more paved roads…”;
    2. “More paved roads stimulate travel, boost road-fuel use, provide more road tax revenue”;
    3. “More road tax revenue means more dollars to maintain and build extra paved roads”; and
    4. “More paved roads ease traffic congestion and develop even more travel.”

    The 1966 road industry graphic demonstrates that the cycle never ends. We’re stuck on the induced demand and generated traffic hamster wheel and nobody seems to know how to jump off, though many of us know we are getting nowhere. IDOT simply spins the wheel faster and laughs as everyone tries to keep up.

    Yeah, its a sadistic game . . . and we’re losing.

  • Ryan Lakes

    Coolebra, you rock.