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Some OL trustees say upgrades a must at Central & SW Hwy

By Laura Bollin

A new fund allocation policy for infrastructure projects in Oak Lawn will not prohibit what some trustees say is an important safety project, according to the village's mayor.

Trustees voted 3-2 Feb. 12 to approve a policy that will distribute a portion of the village's remaining Build America Bond funds equally to each of the village's six trustee districts to fund their own infrastructure projects, whether that is repairing potholes or paving alleys.

The village has about $7 million in remaining bond revenues, said Trustee Bob Streit, chairman of the Village Board's public works committee. Of that money, $1 million is earmarked for the expansion of the Village Green, $2 million will go toward sewer projects, and $4 million will be divided equally to between the six trustees - that is $666,000 apiece - to spend within their districts as they please.

One project discussed by trustees is adding a left turn lane and traffic signal at Central Avenue and Southwest Highway. Some trustees said the project is important for safety reasons, while others are concerned the village does not have the money to finance the project this year.

Cook County Commissioner John P. Daley (11th District) and Cook County Highways Superintendent John Yonan were onhand last week to answer the board's questions about the leftturn lane project. Yonan said the intersection is not among the top 10 projects for the county, but is an important for Oak Lawn and has the full support of the Cook County Highway Department.

"It is the top accident location in the village," Yonan said, noting that collisions involving vehicles turning into traffic and being sideswiped have occurred at the intersection.

When the intersection was repaved in 1990, a left-turn lane was not added because of objections from residents, Daley said.

Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen said the $1.6 million project was for a dedicated left-turn lane and left-turn signal at Central Avenue and Southwest Highway, near St. Gerald Church and School and blocks from Oak Lawn High School. The project would impact drivers turning from Central onto Southwest Highway, Deetjen said. The village will split the project 50/50 with the county.

This year, the village was expected to spend $300,000 on the project, and then spent the remaining $500,000 in 2014. With each trustee district being given its own funds, trustees may pool the money to finance the project. A 2009 traffic study at the intersection determined that a left-turn lane was warranted, Deetjen said.

"The project can still go forward," Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann said. "We just have to find a new way to allocate the funds."

Trustee Tom Duhig said the alley program is a much lower priority than the safety and security of the intersection.

Trustees have discussed not funding the alley project - at a cost of $3 million.

"I support moving forward with [the Central and Southwest Highway] project, but we need to figure out how we are going to pay for it," Streit said.

Trustee Carol Quinlan agreed.

"I support the project, but I don't think we have the funds for it right now," she said. "What if Trustee Duhig and Trustee [Alex] Olejniczak each took $100,000 of their funds to fund the project?"

Duhig suggesting having each of the six trustees put $50,000 toward the $300,000 cost the project in 2013; however, Quinlan opposes that plan.

Olejniczak said the project must be completed.

"We know monies are tight, but when we have matching funds, we need to do this," Olejniczak said. "This is a safety issue in this neighborhood. St. Gerald's Church and School and Oak Lawn High School would all be positively affected by putting this project forward. Oak Lawn High School traffic goes through there, and we are dedicated to making that intersection safer."

The intersection of Central and Southwest Highway is the only intersection along Central Highway between 79th to 115th streets without a left turn lane, Yonan said.

"A left turn lane will decrease the safety issues and ease the flow of traffic," Yonan said.

Once the village board decides to fund the project, the next step is a right of way acquisition, which would cost approximately $57,000, Deetjen said. The right of way is insufficient, so the village needs to begin work on acquiring the slivers of hand between the existing curb and the sidewalk. When the project is approved by the Village Board, Oak Lawn will have to notify homeowners on the east side of Central Avenue between 91st Street and Southwest Highway about the right of way acquisition, and then reimburse them, Deetjen said.

"Normally, the right of way includes the street and the sidewalk, but years ago, when the properties were developed, the village did not acquire sufficient land on the sidewalk on the east side of Central Avenue," Deetjen said. "The ball is in the village's court to acquire the property."

Pending the board's decision on how to fund the project, construction could start in July 2013. If it is not approved in 2013, construction could begin in spring 2014, Yonan said.