Mayor to help oversee $1.7 billion highway project

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar will have a hand in decisions on a $1.7 billion highway project.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar has been selected to serve on the newly formed Central Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) Corridor Planning Council, which will have a voice in a $1.7 billion reconstruction project for the section of I-294 between 95th Street in Oak Lawn and Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont.

    Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz was also named on July 23 to the 33-member advisory board, which is scheduled to meet for the first time at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 14, in Room 219 of Illinois Tollway headquarters, 2700 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove.

Tollway officials said in a press release that the advisory board will “provide public input and guidance” as a master plan is drawn up for the I-294 reconstruction project, part of Move Illinois, the Tollway’s 15-year, $12 billion capital program.

    “I was pleased and honored to be asked to serve on it by Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett (president of the Southwest Suburban Conference of Mayors),” said Tokar, noting the close proximity of I-294 to his village. As of early last week, he did not have an agenda for the first meeting, but said he was looking forward to being at it.

    “The Central Tri-State Tollway plays a critical role in the Illinois Tollway system and the regional transportation network, so input from the public and the communities we serve will be an important part of our planning process,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Greg Bedalov in a statement. “Working together, we have an opportunity to implement innovative solutions that address travel demand for decades to come while also helping to stimulate economic development and serving local communities’ needs.”

Nearly 22 miles long, the Central Tri-State Tollway Corridor is one of the busiest and most complex segments of the 286-mile Tollway system, serving up to 185,000 daily vehicles. In addition to being a main route to O’Hare International Airport, it connects five other interstates–the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), I-190, the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88), the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55).

    According to the Tollway Authority, the Move Illinois Program currently includes $1.7 billion for the Central Tri-State Tollway Project, with advance work tentatively set to begin as early as 2018 and reconstruction scheduled for 2020-2022. In addition to planning for roadway reconstruction, the master planning process will allow the Illinois Tollway to consider improvements to several major bridges and local interchanges, accommodations for commercial vehicles and transit, as well as explore the addition of active traffic management similar to the eastern segment of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) Rebuilding and Widening Project.

Tollway officials said the Corridor Planning Council is expected to help develop a common understanding of the issues and concerns that should be considered as the Illinois Tollway undertakes this reconstruction project.

 Therefore, in addition to mayors from Cook and DuPage counties, the Council membership will include railroad and trucking industry officials, tollway representatives, and leaders of business organizations, such as Donna Smith, executive director of the Bedford Park-Clearing Industrial Association.

    Move Illinois, the Illinois Tollway's 15-year, $12 billion capital program, is aimed at improving mobility, reducing congestion and pollution, and creating as many as 120,000 jobs in the Midwest.

    Other Move Illinois projects include rebuilding and widening the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), constructing a new interchange to connect I-294 to I-57, building a new, all-electronic Elgin O’Hare western access, and funding planning studies for other emerging projects. 

Biss and vinegar toward Bruce

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



Photo by Dermot Connolly

State Representative Mary Flowers and Senator Daniel Biss, at the CEDA office in Oak Lawn, criticized moves by Gov. Rauner that they say are hurting women and children.


               "A new low."


                Those are a couple of sharp descriptions a state senator called Gov. Bruce Rauner's actions to hold up funds that could affect mother's and children.

Two state legislators, with Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County  officials and local families spoke at a press conference at the CEDA/Women Infants and Children food progam office in Oak Lawn on July 31 about the importance of restoring funding to the programs that parents and young children depend on.

Margaret Saunders, who oversees the WIC program, said 48,000 mothers and children depend on the WIC vouchers for milk, cereal, peanut butter, bread and other healthy staples. She said that although the program for low-income mothers and children up to four years old is federally funded, it has become a pawn in the wrangling over the state budget crisis in Springfield because the program is coordinated through state agencies.

While the officials said the money being held up to run the program amounts to about $26 million, Saunders said that studies have shown that the WIC program has actually saved the state much more than that in healthcare costs because WIC families maintain their health better.

“We’re talking about a new low here,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9th). “Literally the care for almost 50,000 women and children is being put in jeopardy. “It is unconscionable that this program will have to begin winding down if legislation is not passed (this week) to keep it open.”

“The human consequences of the stalemate are beyond debate,” he added.

“This is not costing the state of Illinois a penny,” said state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), in whose district Oak Lawn CEDA/WIC office is located. “In fact, it is adding money to the state,” she said, asserting that the program generates $125,000 a week for stores and other businesses where WIC families shop.

Flowers said she would like to see Rauner investigated for his actions, pointing out that he vetoed a bill that would have provided the “pass-through” funding needed by the state to operate the federally funded programs. 

She and Biss said the governor is holding up the funding, and refusing to deal with the budget crisis in general, until the Legislature passes a series of bills hed wants that deal with issues like tort reform, workers compensation, and other issues mainly targeting unions.

“These are not budgetary issues,” she said.

“I am not a politician so I am not going to get into Republican and Democrat, but this is about human lives,” said Harold Rice, the president and CEO of CEDA He said that CEDA did not receive any funding in July, due to the budget crisis, and by this week, if the necessary pass-through legislation was not passed to free up the federal funds, “I will have to make some unfortunate decisions.”

He pointed out that a program assisting struggling families with utility bills has already been suspended, and employees laid off. Next to be cut will be the WIC program, he said.

“We’re at the point of shutting down. It is imperative to end this travesty. They are negotiating over lives here.” he said.

Jerry and Ariadna Bosch of Evergreen Park, with their son, Timothy, 3, listened to the officials with some concern.

“It would affect our food budget a lot if this WIC program was cut,” said Jerry Bosch, explaining that they also have a five-year-old son, who is no longer covered by it. “Many people who are not making a lot of money need it,” said his wife.

A native of Panama, Ariadna said people there would be marching in the streets of her home country if programs like WIC were eliminated.

“Minimum wage is not enough to support a family. Programs like this are really needed,” said Mariana Mendez, a single mother with three children.

Sarah Post of Oak Lawn, who is expecting her second child, was there with her 11-month-old son, Julian. She explained that Julian, who is underweight, has a deficiency that requires special food.

“It would be very difficult,” she said, when Flowers asked if she would be able to afford her son’s food without WIC.

“See, here is a boy with special needs. Why should he be damaged because people in Springfield cannot agree? This is unacceptable. The governor should really be ashamed of himself.” Flowers said.

Lashandra Gholar, of the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, was also there with her young daughters, Makayla, 1, and Makenzie, 5.

“This program really helps us get healthy food,” said Gholar. She said the program allowed her to keep a supply of eggs, which Makenzie really likes.

“Hopefully, we can work together and sort this out,” said Flowers, who was hoping to vote on a new bill to provide the funds this week. “WIC is essential.”

Some Palos residents plane angry over Midway noise

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The rise in Midway Airport noise complaints, coming from as far away as Palos Hills and Palos Park, was among the issues discussed at last  Thursday's second-quarter meeting of the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission at The Mayfield banquet hall, 6072 S. Archer Ave., in Chicago.

Sarah Contreras, of aviation consultant Landram & Brown, reviewed the quarterly report showing that noise complaints lodged with the Chicago Department of Aviation from April to June, 2015 were more than twice the first-quarter numbers, up from 2,277 to 4,844. There were 135 total complainants, but she also said that 76 percent of the complaints came from just six addresses.

The 4,844 second-quarter complaints were scattered across 14 communities. Understandably,  almost 75 percent (3,048) came from 67 Chicago addresses. But they also included 31 from Palos Hills (four addresses) and 665 complaints from Palos Park came from a total of nine addresses. One Palos Park address accounted for 633. Many reports were complaining of noise at night, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Complaints, which are made through the city Aviation Department’s toll-free hotline (800-914-8537) or online at, rose significantly in the fourth quarter of 2014, when they amounted to 1,995. In most quarters since the Department of Aviation began tracking complaints in 2006, the number usually didn’t amount to more than 500.

Some of the increase has been attributed to a change in flight paths that the FAA instituted last year, resulting in more arriving flights coming in from the northeast over Chicago neighborhoods such as Bridgeport and McKinley Park, more than five miles from the airport, where residents weren’t used to be affected by aircraft noise. Departing flights also are heading southwest, causing unusually high noise and subsequent complaints in Burbank.

In order to gather conclusive data regarding increased noise in those areas, Chicago Deputy Commissioner of Aviation Aaron Frame said that a temporary noise monitoring device was deployed in May on the grounds of Reavis High School, at 6034 W. 77th St. in Burbank. He said that in June, that monitor registered an average of 55.2 decibel noise levels, below the 60 level required for schools to be soundproofed. Homes within the 65 DNL sound footprint are eligible for soundproofing.

Another permanent monitor is also being installed northeast of the airport, at 40th and Albany Avenue in the city, Frame said.

Commissioner Gail Conwell said in her report on the residential sound insulation program that 1,396 qualified dwellings (single-family homes and apartments and condos in buildings up to four units) had been inspected for illegal conversions, which are banned from the program. She said 151 units, in 69 buildings, were forwarded to the Chicago Department of Buildings for further review. It was then determined that 57 dwellings in 25 buildings included illegal conversions, and were removed from the list to be soundproofed. These included 12 in Archer Heights, seven in Clearing, four in Garfield Ridge, and one each in West Elsdon and West Lawn.

Frame said they had to eliminate entire buildings if there was one illegal conversion because of common walls and utilities shared between units.

“We have always been very strict about that,” said commission chairman Thomas S. Baliga. “We are not going to pay for new windows and doors on an illegally converted property.”

According to Conwell’s report, there are currently 2.142 dwelling units in various stages of the process of being soundproofed as part of what is called “Phase 15”—the largest package of homes ever soundproofed since the commission was formed 19 years ago.  They are divided into five bid packages, and are in various stages of completion. They are all due to be completed by spring of 2016.

Baliga and others on the commission were surprised to hear from city officials that residents of as many as 1,400 units in 900 buildings offered soundproofing have not responded to efforts by city officials to get in contact with them and start the process.

“There are just some people who don’t want to let people or anyone from the government into their house,” said Stan Lihosit, a commissioner from Archer Heights.

Baliga said he was “shocked” to hear that many people turned down the program. “Who wouldn’t want to get new windows and doors?,” he wondered. When he and other commissioners suggested there might be a language barrier, because many residents speak either Spanish or Polish as their first language. But Frame said the Department of Aviation took that possibility into consideration when the program began.

“We do have staff who speak Spanish and Polish,” he said. “They do make calls (in those languages), Frame said.

When the floor was opened for public comment, a lifelong Garfield Ridge resident who said she first heard about the 19-year-old commission that day questioned how she could live blocks from Midway and not qualify for soundproofing under the current FAA noise contour map. But Baliga said “the word is out there” about the program. Because so many people with broken English ask him about soundproofing, he said he is inclined to agree with Lihosit that the problem is a reluctance to allow government workers inside homes, for whatever reason, rather than a language barrier.

OL woman arrested for incident cops call 'a tragedy on many levels'

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

An Aug. 18 court appearance is scheduled for Oak Lawn resident Jacqueline Cummings, 21, who faces reckless homicide and other charges related to a fatal hit-and-run accident that occurred shortly after midnight on July 18 in the 19100 block of South Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park.

Police, who were on the scene handling an unrelated accident, said Cummings was driving her 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee at 12:16 a.m. when she struck a pedestrian, Maria Domantay, 54, of Arlington Heights. Cummings, of the 10100 block of 53rd Avenue in Oak Lawn, then sideswiped a police car and fled the area.

Domantay was transported to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, where she was pronounced dead in the emergency room at 12:54 a.m. According to the Will County coroner’s office, her death was the result of multiple injuries caused by being stuck by a vehicle.

Cummings was arrested on July 21. In addition to reckless homicide, she was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, improper lane use, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, failure to signal, and use of a wireless phone in an emergency zone. Her bail was set at $150,000.

“Several officers have worked nearly non-stop since the accident to locate evidence and witnesses, which led to the arrest,” said Tinley Park Police Chief Steve Neubauer in a news release. “This case is a tragedy on many levels. It is our hope that the arrest gives the family closure.”

              Domantay was a native of the Philippines. In addition to three daughters and a son, her survivors include five grandchildren and 11 brothers and sisters. Following Friday's services at the Schneider Leucht Merwin & Cooney Funeral Home in Woodstock, interment was to take place at Manila Memorial Park in Novaliches, Philippines. 

Now call him 'Single Sheets'

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Jeff Vorva

George Sheets will be going back to being a fire chief in just one community in the coming months.


Fire Chief George Sheets’ double-duty role leading both the Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge fire departments may be over in a few months, but he and officials in both villages said the arrangement has been successful and no one seems to be in a rush to end it.

Sheets, 51, has been chief of the Oak Lawn Fire Department since 2009 and will continue in that role. The Missouri native began his career in 1981 with the Missouri Fire Service, moving up from firefighter to lieutenant and captain before taking leadership positions in fire departments in Portage and Kalamazoo, Mich. He was chief of fire and EMS services in Beaver Dam, Wis., before coming to Oak Lawn.

“No one is being fired. No one is being forced out,” he said, explaining that when he took on the additional role of Chicago Ridge fire chief last July, it was intended to be a transitional period.

He said he expressed his intentions to go back to Oak Lawn full-time because all the goals he set have been met. But he expects to be holding down both jobs for at least a few more months while the process of selecting his replacement goes on.

The Oak Lawn resident said splitting time between the neighboring departments—his offices are both near Ridgeland Avenue, about a mile apart—has worked smoothly, for the most part.

“If a fire happens in Oak Lawn, I am the Oak Lawn chief, although the Chicago Ridge Fire Department might be assisting,” he said, explaining how his roles are kept separate.

“I think it has worked out very well for both communities,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar of Chicago Ridge. “He has done a great job, and I am in no hurry to see him go.”

Tokar said the process of finding a replacement is in the preliminary stages, “He said he was thinking about (leaving Chicago Ridge). He might have received some applications, but I haven’t even had a chance to talk to Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen about the situation.”

In recent weeks,Bury also has praised Sheets for his work with both communities, and said the arrangement has worked well.

“This isn’t something that is going to happen on Aug. 1, or Sept. 1. It will be a few months at least,” said Tokar.

Sheets admitted occasionally turning up for duty in one village while wearing the shirt or uniform jacket of the other department.

“That was corrected quickly,” he said with a smile. “It has been suggested that the uniform patches should be attached with Velcro, so they can be switched back and forth.”

While Sheets said he has never turned up at one village office when he was scheduled to be at the other, he often goes back and forth between the two during the day.

For instance, he had planned an interview for this story in Oak Lawn. But when a situation required his presence in Chicago Ridge, the interview was switched to the  Chicago Ridge headquarters at 10063 Virginia Ave., where he was found wearing his Oak Lawn Fire Department t-shirt.

In Chicago Ridge, Sheets oversees 13 full-time firefighters, 11 part-time, and 18 paid on-call firefighters. Two of the main goals that he sid he met during his tenure at the Chicago Ridge department was building a good working relationship between the full-time and part-time firefighters, as well as reopening the Lombard Avenue fire station.

That station at 10658 S. Lombard Ave. had been used for storage for many years until it reopened with a village-wide celebration in May.

While the next goal is to eventually have 24-hour service, the Lombard station is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily, staffed by both part-time and full-time firefighters.

Sheets credits the part-time firefighters who took on the work of cleaning out and restoring the Lombard Avenue station to usable condition. Full-time firefighters also donated their time, and $25,000, and community members also pitched in to help. All the volunteer work saved the village $100,000, according to the chief.

He said that in the past, there had been a contentious relationship between full- and part-time firefighters, who are also cross-trained as paramedics. But over the past year, they have begun working closely together.

“The full-time firefighters were unsure about the level of training the part-timers would be getting,” explained Sheets. “So I got them involved in the training process, so they know they are trained properly.”

“It’s not all about me. The union president, Chris Schmelzer, has been great to work with,” said Sheets.

In addition to reopening the fire station, obtaining a “quint” fire truck was also accomplished for the department under Sheets’ watch. Two older model trucks were sold to get the new vehicle, which serves as both an engine and ladder truck. It gets its name from the five functions the vehicle provides, a pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders.

“I just have a systematic approach of getting things done,” said the chief, when asked what his secret to success was.


“George has done a lot to make the department better,” said Mike Welch, a retired paid on-call firefighter who serves as an informal historian for the fire department. “He has brought the full-time and part-time firefighters together. There was more of a division in the past, but they are really working and getting along together now.”