Why the Proposed Expansion of I-290 is a Bad Idea

By: Dan Knickelbein, OPRF High School Class of 2010 In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower had a bold plan to unite America using federally built interstates. What resulted from his plan is now the largest highway system in the world, and one of Chicagoland’s largest expressways, I-290, is named after the President who had the vision to transform America’s transportation system. However, after capably serving America’s transportation needs for more than 50 years, it is time to focus our energy and resources on public and sustainable forms of transportation, like buses, trains, and bicycling, and away from the traditional system of moving cars. That is why the proposed extension of I-290 from six to eight lanes between Mannheim Road and Austin Boulevard is a misguided idea, and should not be carried out. Instead the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) should focus its time and money on public transit projects, such as extending CTA Blue Line service to Oak Brook, or adding an express bus route from Austin Blvd direct to the Loop.

The Village of Oak Park, after conducting a special report on the effects of adding a lane in each direction on I-290, has rightfully come out against the project. The report identified numerous problems the project would cause in Oak Park, including increased air and noise pollution, the potential need for property acquisition along the edges of the expressway, the disruption of freight and passenger rail service during the time of construction, and a decrease in property values.

But the reasons for opposing this project are more than just the traditional costs of expanding a highway. For all the progress the Chicagoland area has made in the past 10 years in public transit (creation of the Pink Line, creation of several transit terminals, including in Oak Park), expanding the Eisenhower expressway would significantly hurt the future of transit in the area, and would not solve the problem of crowded interstates. Expanding I-290 is a solution for the 20th Century, but it is 2011, and it is time to focus away from moving cars and instead focus on moving people. At a time when gas prices are above $4, and the effects of climate change are becoming more and more obvious every day, expanding I-290 sends the wrong message. Instead, IDOT should partner with the CTA, Metra, and Pace to create sustainable transit options for people looking to travel to and from the western suburbs.

Now is the right time for Illinois to become a leader in public and sustainable transit. With several Amtrak routes that go through Illinois having recently gotten millions in federal dollars for upgrades, expanding the Eisenhower would be bad for both the future of sustainable transit as well as the future of Oak Park.  Illinois has been famous for some well-known yet never started transportation proposals, (remember “Cap the Ike”, or the Circle Line?). Let’s hope that this project is another example of IDOT simply blowing hot air.