Residents pan IDOT plan for 55th Street
Countryside business people frown on idea for raised median
By Steve Metsch
A $4.6 million plan to improve 55th Street in Countryside, from LaGrange Road to East Avenue, was met with a healthy dose of skepticism by business owners and residents who attended a recent public hearing.
The hearing, held by the Illinois Department of Transportation in the Countryside City Hall, was well-attended. But none of those there on Oct. 26 indicated they approved of the plan. Many were quite clear regarding their opposition.
Countryside resident Larry Howard, who was viewing several charts on display in a second-floor meeting room, said, “The No. 1 thing everyone talks about is they hate the (proposed) cement median They’d rather have a single two-turn lane in the center.”
Having a raised median, he said, would result more people would have to make U-turns to get where they want. That could be dangerous, he noted. “They need to work with the area,” Howard said of IDOT. “Why does IDOT feel it has to come in here (and make changes)?”
Carlos Feliciano, center, of IDOT discusses plans for 55th Street and La Grange Road with Luke Castrogiovanna of Tery Plumbing. Photo by Steve Metsch.
IDOT said there were 259 accidents from 2010 to 2014. Eighty accidents involved serious injury and there was one death. Forty-two percent of the accidents were rear-end crashes, which IDOT said “is indicative of the need for channel improvement.”
Having a median could mean motorists would drive through the neighborhood north of 55th Street, Howard said. That doesn’t sit well with many, including resident Kimberly Shorett, who lives in the 5400 block of Seventh Avenue, and a block north of 55th and is hearing-impaired.
She said she hoped speed bumps are installed because of the expected increase in traffic from motorists cutting through the neighborhood.
According to IDOT, traffic has increased on 55th Street because Joliet Road was closed in 1998 between 55th Street and East Avenue after it was determined Joliet, which sits on a sliver of land splitting a quarry, had become unsafe “due to integrity concerns.” Since then, all the traffic on Joliet Road has been diverted to 55th and East.
The state eventually won a $40 million settlement from Vulcan Materials, the quarry owner, in May 2010.
IDOT project studies unit head Carlos Feliciano said improvements were needed “in order to alleviate the congestion that has moved from the Joliet Road closure, there are several locations identified that needed improvement. This is one of those locations.”
Improving the intersection of La Grange and 55th and 55th to East Avenue is suggested, he said, with longer storage areas, more right-turn lanes, and fewer left turns across oncoming lanes.
Countryside has asked that IDOT eliminate sidewalk gaps along 55th and LaGrange Road, Feliciano said.
Ray Manz, owner of Café Salsa, also owns the building next door that he leases to O’Reilly Auto Parts on the northeast corner of 55th Street and LaGrange Road. Manz is dead-set against any proposed changes.
He noted that IDOT reclaiming land along LaGrange Road would eliminate an unnamed road that runs parallel to it, along with dozens of parking spaces for businesses. IDOT said 126 parking spaces of 18 business owners will be affected by the work.
“Where are they going to park? They’re not going to park in my lot,” Manz said.
“That road,” Feliciano said, “encroaches on IDOT’s right-of-way. It was put in without IDOT’s knowledge.”
Luke Castrogiovanni, whose wife owns Terry Plumbing on LaGrange near 55th, said he preferred not having a raised median “because it impacts all of us.”
“Traffic patterns make or break businesses,” he said.
Countryside Ald. John von Drasek isn’t sold on the need for intersection improvements. “I’m a roofing contractor, only two times a day it gets clogged up, other than that, it’s clear,” he said.
Feliciano said that IDOT “can’t plan for the hours that there’s not going to be a problem. We plan for the hours there is going to be a problem.”
Feliciano said “studies show businesses are seldom impacted when access management is implemented. If you want to go to Wendy’s, you’ll go to Wendy’s. You’re not going to change your gym because you have to go a different way.”
Von Drasek said he’d prefer “to slow people down so they stay in Countryside to spend money.”
The project would include storm sewers on the north side of 55th Street, a stretch that locals know tends to create huge puddles on the northernmost lane during rainstorms. Those at the meeting agreed that’s a good idea.
A traffic study in 2011 determined which intersection improvements were needed. Some have already been made at LaGrange Road and Joliet Road.
Comments on the proposed project are due to IDOT by Nov. 24 at DOT.55THSTREET@illinois.gov. More information on the plan is at the IDOT site.
— Desplaines Valley News