Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said he has seen enough of traffic jams that extend on and off the ramps at the 95th Street tollway interchange that borders Hickory Hills on the west and Oak Lawn on the east.
“It’s a mess,” said Tokar during a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on Jan. 27 at the Chicago Ridge Village Hall. “It’s a complete disaster that needs plenty of work.”
Tokar is a member of the Central Tri-State Planning Council, which filed its final report on Jan. 21. Thirty officials are on the Corridor Planning Council, including Tokar and several other mayors. The recommendations included in the report for the Central Tri-State Master Plan. The Master Plan will examine various reconstruction alternatives that incorporate the council’s input.
The suggestions by the council will also be considered, such as the conditions of existing corridor assets and on-going corridor maintenance needs. The Corridor Planning Council Report and the Master Plan results will be shared with the Tollway Board of Directors as they make decisions for future phases of the project.
Tokar and Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz have attended the meeting the past seven months. Tokar said a lot of discussion has taken place and although the project will take some time to be built, he sees progress in the future.
“The number one and two problems are congestion and access to the tollway,” said Tokar, referring specifically to the 95th Street interchange. “They (Tollway Board) need to address this. There are some other problems. There is just not enough signage. We should have signs indicating that Christ Hospital can be found depending on if you are traveling north or south. We should also have a sign for Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. I suppose there should be a sign for the Chicago Ridge Mall. I’m not trying to be self-serving but there should be signs, especially for hospitals.”
The Chicago Ridge mayor is concerned about the congestion. He points to the fact that drivers who try to enter 294 going north to Wisconsin are in a line that often stretches nearly three blocks. Not only does it back up traffic, it could be hazardous when traffic along Harlem Avenue begins to enter 95th Street going north, Tokar said.
In 2011, the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors approved a 15-year, $12 billion capital program, “Move Illinois: Tollway Driving the Future.” As part of the capital program, $1.6 billion was set aside to reconstruct 294 beginning at 95th Street. According to the Tollway Board, the corridor carries the heaviest amount of passenger and commercial traffic on the tollway system, with commercial freight accounting for much as 20 percent of traffic in some sections.
Tokar said a variety of options have been discussed to relieve congestion. Ramps have been discussed at 103rd and Southwest Highway and even the old Yellow Freight property in Chicago Ridge. The mayor said they are just in the discussion phase, but something has to be done about the congestion. He again referred to vehicles that are lined up to get on 294 north.
“It’s like being in the Brookfield Zoo parking lot,” said Tokar, “So, there definitely is a problem there. Nothing moves. You don’t want to go there at rush hour.”
Other local mayors also opinions on what should be built at the 95th Street interchange
“We would like to see a transportation center built at the intersection,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is also the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “From an economic standpoint, I think that would be good.
Tokar said that the IDOT engineers will go over the report and will make plans that may take a couple of years to be approved. Originally constructed in 1958, the Tri-State contained two lanes from 95th Street to the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), and three lanes from I-55 to Balmoral Avenue.
After the master planning process is completed in 2017, preliminary construction of the roadway is programmed to begin in 2020, according to the Tollway Board.
“It may sound like a lot of money, but it is important for access to Christ Hospital and Palos Community Hospital,” added Tokar.