IDOT Asks Road Builders to Pack Room at Circle Interchange Hearing

southbound Halsted photorealistic with flyover
A rendering by IDOT showing the flyover above Halsted Street. Please put on your rendering reality distortion removal glasses now.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is hosting a meeting tonight to present adjustments to the $475 million Circle Interchange project. The project, justified as way to increase automobile speeds and reduce congestion-related delays and crashes, will still have an ugly flyover over Halsted Street and at eye level of many residents in a nearby apartment building.

IDOT is trying hard to frame this road project – which, ultimately, will lead more people to drive – as an enhancement for the community. But all of the local improvements — a new bike lane on Harrison for one block, a widened bike lane on Halsted for one block, and noise walls — can be done without expanding the Circle Interchange. Perhaps this strategy isn’t winning over local residents. A reader contacted us yesterday to report that IDOT has asked one of Chicago’s largest architecture and engineering firms to come and support the project.

Our source asked to remain anonymous and to refrain from identifying the employer. We were able to confirm that it is a very large engineering firm that does a lot of business for state DOTs. The source tells us that the message went out to every employee at the firm’s Chicago offices: “The fact that IDOT is asking for industry players to stack the room is probably not a new tactic but it is rather disconcerting for them to so blatantly tilt the public involvement process in favor of their preferred solution.”

Here is the message from the firm to its employees:

REMINDER:

The Circle Interchange Public Hearing is tomorrow night, Thursday, June 27, starting at 5:00 p.m. The Hearing is at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

IDOT has asked for support from the industry at this Hearing for this high-profile interchange improvement project. Please represent us by attending the meeting tomorrow after work.

It is an open house event, so you don’t need to stay the whole time – but at least drop by to sign in and fill out a comment form to show your support for IDOT!

The changes to the project that IDOT has made include:

  • Increasing the distance from the 400 S Green residences from 20 feet to 26 feet. The Chicago Tribune reported: “The new tweaks were presented late last week to Green Street Lofts residents, who in April rejected the first modification as ‘ridiculous” and the original plan as ‘insane.’ They reluctantly agreed to the latest proposal. ‘We are still opposed to the whole flyover (ramp) concept. Nobody wants it, and it doesn’t seem to add a whole lot to IDOT’s grand master plan of alleviating congestion,” said David Lewis, condo board president of the Green Street Lofts.”
  • Adding noise abatement walls and landscaping between 400 S Green and the flyover ramp. We’ll see what kind of view this creates when IDOT presents plans at the meeting.
  • Six more noise abatement walls, including at the St. Patrick’s Church playground
  • Vibration monitors in up to 29 building basements
  • Widening of the pedestrian corridor on Peoria Street

The meeting is tonight, Thursday, June 27, from 5-8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza hotel at 733 W Madison Street. It’s an open house format so you can attend at any time. Comments about the environmental assessment (EA) are being accepted through July 12, 2013. You can leave a comment (to go on public record) at the event, at the contact form on the project’s website, or email project manager Steve Schilke.

Likely to be replaced by a flyover
A view from the second floor of 400 S Green Street, soon to be filled with thousands of trucks each day.

A group of citizens opposed to the flyover over Halsted (known as Alternative 7.1C) will gather at Halsted & Van Buren at 5:30 PM and march to the meeting to protest the degrading of the pedestrian environment and damage to a residential building. Alternative 15.4, which IDOT identified as a second place scenario but without explaining why it wouldn’t choose it, would have the same congestion reduction impacts but put the ramp under Halsted Street.

  • Well, to use the pelaton analogy, the answer is not to widen the ramp but to lower the number of riders. The problem with that analogy is that having a lot of competitors in a bike race is a good thing. Having a bunch of unnecessary vehicles on an expressway is a bad thing.

  • Common Sense

    The pelaton is here everyday (bad thing or not). IDOT is responsible to make the flow of traffic safe and efficient. We are talking about the efficiency of moving vehicles THROUGH an interchange. This is making the flow better for thru traffic and for traffic moving to another direction.

    People on the EB Ike cannot even get over to the SB exit since the NB exit is so far backed up. Have you driven this? This is unsafe for those just heading towards Congress. Mr. Kass must be making over 180,000 trips a day.

    Not doing anything on the premise to force people to take other means of transportation is ridiculous and childish.

    Two lane ramps are the way to go for EB to NB, NB to WB, and EB to SB (which remains the same). How can anyone who has driven any of these three movements object?

  • Common Sense

    This project really should have nothing to do with biking or pedestrians. This is simply an improvement to a major interstate highway interchange. These projects have large price tags especially in a developed urban setting with significant ROW limitations. Big projects lead to big changes sometimes. Not everyone will be happy with the final outcome. The few that get the short end of the stick must realize that this is for the greater good of the community, city, state, region and nation. People and goods flow through this interchange whether their trip involves a railroad, seaport, or airport, and whether the trip crosses city lines, county lines, state lines, or international lines.

    Now Boulevard Bikes, Uptown Bikes, Upgrade Cycle Works, Bike Maintenance, Parts & Accessories, etc. can get their supplies and materials on time and more efficiently. All of the Whole Foods and Trader Joes will also get their deliveries cheaper so they can pass their savings on to their customers. Any Law Firm (that might be advertising on this site) can go out to more communities to ensure the rights of bicyclists are being upheld knowing that if they traverse the Circle Interchange, it will be more efficient and less watts will be required for this trip (I assume they have electric cars if any at all) although they probably take public transportation to any community.

  • This project has a lot to do with bikes and pedestrians because it will encourage more people to drive and less to take transit, which means more cars on the street and worse conditions for walking and biking. The overpass will also degrade the pedestrian environment.

    How about instead of spending a half a billion on a project that’s not going to do much for congestion, we spend that money on projects that will help convert unnecessary expressway trips to more sensible modes? Projects like this, built by highway engineering firms, are extremely expensive and wasteful. For example the same price as the interchange project we could pay for the entire Red Line South rehab project, or buy 80,000 Divvy bikes and 8,000 stations. People complained that Millennium Park was expensive, but it’s awesome and generates tons of revenue for the city, unlike this highway boondoggle, which is in the same ballpark price-wise.

    Just curious Common Sense, do you think Portland Oregon making a tragic mistake by not building the $3.2 billion Columbia River Crossing mega highway? After, all that would have made a lot of money for people in the highway construction business: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/07/01/ding-dong-portlands-crc-mega-highway-is-dead/

  • Common Sense

    You’re right. we should never reconstruct and improve anymore projects that have cars driving through them. I am sure the existing interchange will last forever as is.

    I am not familiar with the Portland project. If it was the worst congested interchange in the nation in a city that is the hub for transporting goods across the globe, I think I’d be behind it. I do not travel across the Columbia River frequently, like I do the Circle Interchange.

    Sounds like apples to apples.

  • Reconstructing is one thing but “improving” is a common euphemism used by road builders for projects that made conditions worse for everybody except motorists.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I don’t recall indicating that we should abandon the highway and revert to movement of goods by pack mule.

    The point you are missing – or blythley dismissing – is that there is tremendous value associated with alternative forms of transportation . . . including benefits that accrue directly to road users by way of reduced congestion without the extraordinarily unnecessary and imprudent expenditure of scarce public resources on severely under-performing investments [read incremental capacity enhancements and silly interchange reconfigurations.]

    The fact is, IDOT’s own work indicates that combinations of road pricing and transit investment (without added capacity or interchange reconfiguration) yield congestion improvements orders of magnitude greater than the measly, and not to mention unsupported, benefit claims they seek to attach to Circle Interchange reconfiguration.

    Furthermore, in similar analysis the FHWA indicates they believe they could solve DC area congestion using the same combination of investment strategies.

    Lastly, and not so surprisingly, one of the behemoths of commercial shipping, UPS, testified in congressional hearing that they are willing to pay road pricing fees if there is value in exchange, with value being improved travel times – time means staff hours, fuel, etc.

    Thus, strategies that get people off the highway and into transit, biking, or walking yield a wide range of significant economic, social, and environmental benefits – including those attractive to highway users – that urban highway investments not only can’t touch, but also serve to undermine.

    The issue at hand is having the political will to make the right decisions – decisions that recognize that giving all of our money to the highway construction industry is no longer a viable strategy for enhancing America’s 21st century competitiveness. We need reliable, affordable, and efficient alternatives to struggling in chronic congestion that decades of investment in road-oriented solutions have failed to make meaningful progress toward reducing.

    Stop being silly and show a little common sense.

  • Fred

    How much faster would those goods and out-of-towners move through if there were no commuters to compete with? Get as many commuters as possible to use sustainable methods and the other users all move faster.

    No one is advocating getting rid of highways; just highway commuters.

  • Anonymous

    Common sense is not too common.

    Let’s make what we have as efficient as we can before defaulting to the same geometric and capacity solutions that have plagued our decision-making for decades.

    That necessarily means accessing new investment strategies, liking combining road pricing with transit and other forms of alternative transportation. Once we’ve done that, then there may be a rational basis for examining highway needs that extend beyond strict state-of-good-repair investments; not until then.

  • Anonymous

    Dead-on.

  • Anonymous

    The pelaton is here every day because our prior investment strategies have made it the only option.

    IDOT’s actual responsibilities have been legislatively refined through successive efforts spanning decades to impress upon them and direct the need to think – and ACT – mutimodally, and are fairly well captured in their mission statement, though not at all well-reflected in the majority of their work:

    “The mission of IDOT is to provide safe, cost-effective transportation for
    Illinois in ways that enhance quality of life, promote economic prosperity, and demonstrate respect for our environment. We will accomplish our mission
    while making the following principles the hallmark of all our work:
    Safety, Integrity, Responsiveness, Quality, and Innovation.”

    Defining every problem as a nail and every solution a hammer hardly honors their commitments espoused in the mission statement. Surely every transportation problem is not one of geometric deficiencies and capacity constraints, yet their major studies invariably cite the the same worn out conclusions. As I’ve written before, their major studies read like plagiarized novels with only the locations changed.

    The solution to a weight problem is not buying larger pants.

  • Anonymous

    Now use a little common sense to validate their claims.

    You’ll find their math often fails to add up. See the recent Streetsblog post about inflated travel data, for instance; a problem that plagues highway project justifications.

    IDOT uses highly questionable assumptions to undergird their analysis, but doesn’t disclose what those assumptions are.

    IDOT uses multiplication to amplify differences that are statistically indistinguishable from no difference at all; they don’t even test for significance prior to making calculations that turn small numbers into large ones.

    If you accept an IDOT report at face value, you are not using common sense.

  • Anonymous

    I’m all for broad public engagement; however, and if true, there’s a dark and insidious aspect to a public agency responsible for awarding and overseeing huge contracts asking favors of the entities with whom they do business with. Just ask the growing list of jailed Illinois electeds and governmental staff.

    It is a not-so-subtle distinction that seems to elude you, but for some it is just common sense.

    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/01/30/timeline-of-george-ryan-case/

    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20081217/NEWS02/200032308/illinois-tollway-chief-steps-down

    Need more? Just use Google . . . and a little common sense.

  • Common Sense

    How is this project making conditions worse for everyone less the motorists? The motorist are cruising along and then this bottleneck occurs. Two to three lanes of traffic volumes are choked down to a single lane ramp (NB to WB or EB to NB). You see it & I see it. How can one argue that two lanes need to make the interchange improve? Traffic is backed up in the middle lane only on the IKE for the WB to NB movement. That is extremely dangerous for anyone (out of state drivers who cannot get to the SB exit, truckers unfamiliar with the need to get in the right lane before the backup) this affects every lane of traffic knowing someone may swerve to avoid a collision.
    The answer is not to leave as is and hope the drivers use transit and provide 100,000 Divvy bikes to the locals.
    This intersection needs to be reconstructed regardless–it is old and deteriorating. It has gone beyond its projected life. It is time to reconstruct the project. These various ramp improvements are helping the existing flow of traffic.

  • I suggest you check out the arguments in Steven’s new post and let’s move this discussion over there. http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/07/02/idot-presents-final-plans-for-circle-interchange/

  • Guest

    I should add that the search string “highway contract scandal” yields 89,200,000 results on Google.

  • Common Sense

    Okay–a lot to discuss.

    We both agree that we need to spend our resources on projects that give the biggest bang for our buck.

    We both agree continuing to add lanes to relieve congestion in Chicago is a losing battle. (Although, adding a lane in tandem with improving transit can be beneficial)

    We both agree that congestion pricing is an alternative to make drivers value their role in the congestion problem. (Although, I cannot imagine the Beltway’s traffic congestion being solved by this single approach.)

    We agree that UPS realizes the benefit of predictable delivery schedules that can directly be reimbursed by congestion pricing to their clients. (No brainer)

    Can you agree that this interchange needs to be reconstructed? If Yes, move to next statement. If No, imagine at some point it will (just a fact of physics).

    Can you agree that two lanes in lieu of one lane on the two ramps (NB to WB and EB to NB)? Now this is common sense. To say no is like saying the toll booths should go back up across the lanes of the Tollway and IPASS thrown away. That will get the drivers to switch to other modes of transportation and cause massive inefficiencies.
    Sorry, but that is what you look like you are saying. Do not open the way for cars to flow thru the interchange easier. We are not talking about adding another lane to the Ike on this project. We are not talking about adding a lane to the Dan Ryan or the Kennedy.

  • Anonymous

    Yep.

  • Anonymous

    1. “Although, adding a lane in tandem with improving transit can be beneficial.”

    Comment: Show me the money. Research indicates, models predict, and economic theory supports the finding that adding road capacity diminishes transit ridership potential.

    2. “Although, I cannot imagine the Beltway’s traffic congestion being solved by this single approach.”

    Comment: That’s the stalwarts of highway design down at FHWA that made that finding, not me. It is also consistent with international pricing experience, as well as IDOT modeling on the highway congestion relief benefits of pricing and transit combinations.

    4. “Can you agree that two lanes in lieu of one lane on the two ramps (NB to WB and EB to NB)?”

    Comment: Assuming you are asking if I agree that two lanes are better than one in each direction, my response has already been provided many times in the posts I’ve made on this coverage. The answer is NO – larger pants don’t solve an obesity problem. The tollroad example is apples to oranges.

    5. “We are not talking about adding another lane to the Ike on this project.”

    Comment: What, exactly, do you think caused the project to get fast-tracked, having run roughshod over the regional capital project planning process? Use a little common sense here. Is it in danger of suddenly collapsing? No, it isn’t on that list. Why the urgency, then? Why, also, did the IDOT consultants indicate at their project kick-off meeting that they are examining ways to get an HOT lane through the Circle? Yes, we’re talking about an ill-justified boondoggle of an add-a-lane project on I-290. That’s right – more cars and less transit carrying people into and out of the downtown area. That is why the Circle is being fast-tracked . . . it is part of a larger corrupted vision of success – one where success is measured in acres of new highway concrete.

    We need better investment strategies, better analysis to make decisions with, and a much more transparent process.

  • Nathanael

    Oh, shut up with this idiocy — I hear this particular line of bull every time a road promoter has admitted that extra lanes are bad for passenger transportation. Well, guess what, they’re bad for freight transportation too.

    Goods can be delivered to shops by freight rail, and Chicago has a *vast quantity* of freight rail. However, subsidized roads have diverted a lot of this freight traffic to trucks. There is no reason to subsidize inefficient, diesel-guzzling trucks on government-maintained highways over efficient trains on tracks.

  • Nathanael

    Grow up. This is far from the “worst congested interchange in the nation”. I believe that honor goes to one of the city street intersections in one of the most congested cities — perhaps the intersection of Canal Street and Broadway in New York City.

  • Nathanael

    It is absolutely wrong for people who stand to get paid to do a project — private benefit — to be *solicited* to come and pretend to be members of the public at a hearing about the PUBLIC benefit of a project.

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