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IDOT answers questions in I-290 study

Original: 7/10/10 Oak Park,IL The Eisenhower expressway exit ramp at Austin Avenue in Oak Park on July 10, 2010. The Village of Oak Park is considering trying to make the center exit and entrance ramps on I-290 at Austin and Harlem historic landmarks. (Rob Hart/Staff Photographer) Published: Oak Park might seek historic landmark status for the Eisenhower Expressway exit ramp at Austin Avenue, as well as the ramp at Harlem Avenue. (Rob Hart/Staff Photographer)
The Eisenhower expressway exit ramp at Austin Avenue in Oak Park. | File photo

The Illinois Department of Transporation solicited comments and questions from the public in regards to I-290. IDOT came up with a list of responses to the most frequently asked questions:

"Comment: Will adding a lane to I-290 eliminate congestion?

In a region of 7 million people, there isn’t a standalone project that can eliminate congestion completely. However, for the I-290 project, a combination of highway and transit improvements can move up to 40,000 more people through the corridor. It is also important to note that mobility is only one concern on I-290 - the I-290 corridor experiences thousands of crashes each year, has aging infrastructure, and outdated designs, including substandard bike and pedestrian accommodations (most of the crossings do not meet ADA requirements), and poor access to the CTA Blue Line. The overall goal is to improve safety, mobility and facility condition over the "no build" scenario for all modes, while also making the corridor an asset to the neighboring communities. 

Comment: What is a Purpose and Need, and why aren’t environmental factors included in the Purpose and Need? 

The Purpose and Need is a concise summary of the transportation problems that should be addressed by a project, which is consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) policies and procedures. If an alternative cannot address the basic transportation needs, it is dropped from further consideration. The Purpose and Need evaluation is performed at a conceptual level of engineering detail, and for those alternatives that meet the Purpose and Need, a basic engineering design will be developed. This engineering design, as well as refined traffic volumes, allow for the consideration (and measurement of) social, environmental and economic factors.

Regardless of the content of the Purpose and Need, protection of the environment is required as part of the overall NEPA process. The I-290 study is in response to the current conditions in the corridor, which negatively impact local residents and communities each day in terms of mobility, safety, and facility condition/design. 

Comment: Were alternatives considered that do not add a lane to I-290?

Yes, the Department studied “non widening” options, both in evaluation rounds 1 and 2, which would rely upon an extended Blue Line for any additional capacity. Our updated evaluation of round 2 alternatives included two new “non widening” alternatives (see Attachment 1) that were suggested by the Village of Oak Park (Village) and Citizens for Appropriate Transportation (CAT); these alternatives include features that would further restrict flow on I-290 (i.e., the Village plan calls for high toll rates on all lanes, the CAT plan calls for converting the existing inside lanes to managed lanes). The major effect of these strategies was a diversion of traffic from I-290 and a worsening of arterial congestion. As such, these alternatives did not perform well enough to be carried further. The same evaluation criterion was used for every alternative. We also rescored the round 2 alternatives using a methodology suggested by CAT, which confirmed our original findings (see Attachment 2). Our technical studies, which include the scoring of alternatives, as well as our Corridor Advisory Group (CAG) presentations, are documented on the project website.

Comment: Can the CTA Blue Line be extended instead of adding a lane to I-290? 

A stand alone transit improvement would not address the transportation needs in the I-290 corridor. There is an abundance of existing travel choices in the study area, including an extensive transit network.

However, the market served by I-290 is much broader than the market served by transit (see Attachment 3). As such, the stand-alone transit improvements that we have studied, including a Blue Line extension to Oak Brook, have not demonstrated significant increased new transit ridership or would not address the mobility issues along the I‑290 corridor in any meaningful way. In addition, about 50% of the ridership for a Blue Line extension would be from other existing transit services. Rather than picking one mode over another, our goal is to improve all modes of travel for all users in the study area, including transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and vehicles. Every alternative we are considering for the next round of evaluation includes an extension of the CTA Blue Line. 

Comment: Why are left side ramps a concern, and how will the community be impacted by a right side design? 

The I-290 crash analysis has documented safety concerns associated with the left side ramps, and that report is posted on the project website (http://www.eisenhowerexpressway.com/pdfs/i-290%20crash%20addendum%201%202010-apr-19.pdf). The two highest concentrations of crashes in the westbound direction are along the sections of I-290 approaching the Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue interchanges, and the highest crash rate within the project limits is the westbound approach to Austin Boulevard (539 crashes per mile). This is substantially higher than the next highest location (390 crashes per mile) at the eastbound approach to the Ashland Avenue interchange. In addition, 74% of the crashes that had an identified lane position in the police reports were in the inner two lanes at Austin, and 47% of the crashes that had an identified lane position in the police reports were in the inside lane at Harlem. This crash experience can be attributed to the inside lanes on an expressway typically serving higher speed, longer distance travel; the inside ramps introduce merging and speed changes. As an additional reference, please see the attached excerpt from NCHRP 17-45 Safety Prediction Methodology and Analysis Tool for Freeways and Interchanges (Attachment 4), which is a more recent national study, and documents that left side entrances or exits ramps have up to 180% more crashes than right side entrance or exit ramps. This report is based on research sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in Cooperation with the FHWA and is being incorporated into an updated version of the Highway Safety Manual. As shown in Attachment 5, the proposed interchanges at Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard would have right side ramps for only a portion of their length - the proposed ramps would transition to the middle, similar to today’s conditions, and stay within the existing right of way. Air and noise studies will be initiated this fall, when the engineering design and refined traffic information is further developed. 

Comment: How were stakeholder comments from the initial round 2 evaluation in the spring of 2012 considered? 

In response to comments received from stakeholders in 2012, the Department revisited the round 2 alternatives evaluation, adding two additional “non widening” alternatives. We also worked with the CTA to develop the scope, schedule and funding for the Blue Line Vision Study, which will enhance the transit planning aspects of the overall I-290 planning process. The past year was also spent gathering and analyzing additional information in the eastern 4 mile extension of the study area. This additional analysis was used to respond to many of the stakeholder comments that we received in 2012.

We appreciate the comments that were provided, and carefully considered them as we developed a revised Purpose and Need, round 2 alternatives evaluation, and an updated Alternatives Report. It is also important to note that the planning process is essentially at the same milestone as last summer – the end of round 2. Public Meeting 3, which was anticipated for last summer, will be scheduled for October of this year. 

Comment: Has every way to manage lanes on I-290 been considered? 

We have analyzed numerous types of managed lanes, including car pool lane variations, tolling variations, and combinations of both. Three of the top four alternatives emerging from the round 2 evaluation, and advanced for further study, include managed lanes (see Attachment 6). These alternatives represent a broad spectrum of ideas for managing flow on I-290, and will be refined as the planning process advances. 

Comment: How is Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) being applied to the I-290 study, and what role will an urban designer or landscape architect have on the project? 

Community context has been an important consideration from the beginning, and we have utilized a Corridor Advisory Group (CAG) to define current and future conditions along the corridor. The CAG consists of community representatives and other stakeholders that have detailed knowledge of their communities. 

The alternatives under consideration do not change the function of the corridor or the surrounding communities, and we are working with stakeholders to blend I-290 corridor improvements within the context of current and future land uses. The alternatives stay within the existing right-of-way in Oak Park, and in particular, within the existing walled section (“trench”), as shown on Attachment 7. As such, a decision on whether or not to add a lane to I‑290 would not be driven by urban design or architectural considerations. The interchange concepts at Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard are unique designs that were developed on the basis of stakeholder input, which placed a high priority on keeping the intersections in the middle; this design also provides an opportunity to cover a portion of the expressway as shown on Attachment 5. We are also partnering with the CTA regarding station concepts and upgrades to the overall Blue Line Corridor. 

The alternatives are at a conceptual level of detail, and offer flexibility with regard to aesthetics and design. In this next round of alternatives development and evaluation, we will continue to blend community, environment, and engineering factors, with the ultimate objective of developing a preferred plan that best addresses the transportation needs, improves all modes, and creates an asset for the adjoining communities. 

Comment: What if a weighted scoring system was used for evaluating alternatives in round 2? 

Based upon stakeholder comments, we applied what’s called a “ratio” based scoring system to the round 2 alternatives, and converted the scoring to a 0 to 100 scale (Attachment 2). A ratio scoring system gives more weight to individual criteria, depending on how well an alternative performs. The ratio scoring system yields the same top 4 alternatives, in a different order, and would justify moving forward with only 3 alternatives (Attachment 2). This confirms the soundness of our basic evaluation approach, and we will move into the next evaluation round with 4 alternatives, since they provide a broader spectrum of ideas. 

Comment: Some of the round 2 evaluation results show relatively small percentage improvements regionally. Should those results be discarded? 

In terms of percentage differences, it is important to recognize that the regional measures used in round 2 involve a comparison between an 8 mile section of I-290 and a 36,000 mile regional highway system. As such, major percentage differences should not be expected, given the size of the existing system. In addition, focusing on percentage differences does not account for the significance of individual performance results. For example the build alternatives reduce regional Vehicle Hours of Travel (VHT) by up to 28,000 hours, which equates to a daily productivity savings of approximately $685,000. 

In addition, the relative (percentage) differences between alternatives, especially with regard to transit performance, can be small. Eliminating evaluation criteria on the basis of small percentage differences would eliminate an objective rationale for evaluating transit performance, and would not acknowledge the significance of individual results. 

Comment: How will air quality be addressed? 

In order to assess air quality, detailed engineering (including horizontal and vertical geometry) and design level traffic is needed, and is being pursued during this next evaluation round. We will be comparing the alternatives to USEPA standards, which were specifically developed to protect sensitive populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. 

Comment: What will be done for reducing traffic noise along I-290? 

Similar to air quality studies, traffic noise studies require detailed engineering and design level traffic. As we move into this next evaluation round, noise monitoring, modeling, and abatement studies will be conducted. The noise study will investigate noise levels, noise increases and the effectiveness and cost of providing noise abatement (e.g., walls) in accordance with State and Federal policies and procedures.

We appreciate your continued involvement in the I-290 study. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Mark Peterson, Project Manager, at (847) 705-4569."

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