Chicago Ridge mayor calls Tri-State problem 'terrible'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

tri-state charts photo 5-3

Photo by Joe Boyle

Visitors view information about the timeline for reconstruction plans along I-294 during an open house held last Thursday night at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar recalls the last time he drove on the Central Tri-State Tollway.

“I was just over there about four or five days ago,” Tokar said during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “It is extremely difficult to get on and get off the interchange at 95th Street in Hickory Hills. Then try going south to north and you have to suddenly cross three lanes of traffic to get on 294. It’s terrible.”

Tokar is on the Southwest Conference of Mayors board that has studied the traffic congestion and the ramp access on 95th Street entering and exiting 1-294. It is a major problem with no specific answers, the mayor said.

“They’ve got to do something,” Tokar said. “It’s terrible and they are aware that it’s terrible.”

The Illinois Tollway Commission has been hosting open house meetings to share information with residents, businesses and communities as part of a plan for reconstruction of the Tri-State. The latest open house was held last Thursday night at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

Visitors had the opportunity to watch a short film on the history of 294 and the construction plans along the 22-mile route from Balmoral Avenue to 95th Street.

The brief film noted that the Tri-State Tollway was originally constructed in 1958. While improvements have been made to the northern and southern portions of I-294, the Central Tri-State is need of major reconstruction after years of make do repairs done in a patchwork fashion, according to the Illinois Tollway Commission.

Continued patching has become costly and disruptive to traffic, which has created additional congestion and unreliable travel times.

Andre Brown, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was looking over the vast charts during the open house. He is pleased that something is going to be done about relieving congestion.

“At work they let me start later,” said Brown, who has to make the daily drive on 294 from Chicago to Deerfield. “It still takes me about one hour and 20 minutes. When I leave, I’m resigned to the fact that it’s going to take two hours to get home. I knew that when I accepted the job, but it would be nice if some changes could be made.”

Brown has a few suggestions for Tollway representatives at the open house.

“I would like to see more exits before 95th Street so that traffic would not get so blocked up,” Brown said. “You got everybody getting off at 95th Street. Maybe an exit could be put in near UPS (in Willow Springs) or just before 95th Street.”

Illinois Tollway representatives said at the open house said that relieving congestion, adding additional lanes and better access to and exiting I-294 are top priorities. Major construction on the Central Tri-State will begin sometime this year with all the improvements and expansion plans being completed in 2025.

A major first step in the direction for reconstruction plans is the Mile Long Bridge that extends over 294 and carries drivers over two major railroads, three water resources, several roads, and serves a major shipping distribution center for UPS and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BSNF) Railroad.

The Mile Long Bridge was originally constructed in 1958 and is nearing the end of its service life, according to the Illinois Tollway. Reconstruction of the bridge will begin before the mainline repairs due to condition of the bridge. Coordination with natural resource agencies, major business operations, property owners, and local agencies have to take place to enable the Tollway to maintain four lanes of traffic while mainline construction is occurring, Illinois Tollway officials note.

Tokar said the Mile Long Bridge repairs is the first priority of Tollway officials

“That being said, they are going to look at what needs to be done out here, and once they do, then they might have to purchase some property. But they have a lot to do first.”

And that includes the 95th Street interchange.

“They are aware of the problem and I don’t know what they are going to do about it,” Tokar said. “They know that the (southwest suburban) mayors are concerned about it.

“They have increased the budget from $2 billion to $4 billion, so they are serious about it,” Tokar added. “They want to get it right.”