Photo by Dermot Connolly
Chicago Ridge officials are working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to get a traffic light installed at the busy intersection of 99th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. Nearby residents say the progress is too slow.
The Chicago Ridge Village Board has been working on getting a traffic light at the corner of 99th Street and Ridgeland Avenue since at least 2015, but the process is moving much too slow for some of the nearby residents who report seeing accidents there on a weekly basis.
Although there are already traffic lights at 98th Street and 100th Street, traffic studies determined that a light at 99th Street was necessary. The street divides the main Chicago Ridge Mall from the Chicago Ridge Commons, and motorists are coming from the malls are often lined up at that intersection waiting to head east, north or south. Although there are stop signs for motorists on 99thStreet, often cars can be seen darting across Ridgeland in between cars heading north and south.
Village Board meetings are usually held on the first and third Tuesday of every month, and at each one for the past few years, village engineer Andrew Pufundt gives an update on any progress made toward getting the traffic light. Often, there is very little to report.
Chicago Ridge is expected to pay $100,000 for its share of the project, but because most of the funding is coming from the Illinois Department of Transportation, there is a lot of red tape to go through.
“Working with IDOT to get anything done is very frustrating,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar at several meetings this year when the issue was brought up. “I suppose if we could pay for it all ourselves, it would be different.”
The village actually did agree to pay upfront for some of the preliminary work to get the process started.
As an interim solution while waiting for the streetlight, village officials installed flashing yellow lights that warn of the intersection, but Gino Amato, who looks out on the intersection from his balcony, said they have not helped.
“No one pays attention to them, or obey the stop signs,” he said.
“I told the mayor I often see two accidents a week there,” said Amato, who lives on the Oak Lawn side of the intersection. “I’ve seen some very serious accidents there and at least one fatality since 2010.”
One corner of the intersection marks the border between Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn, with the northeast corner being in Oak Lawn. Amato has appealed to Oak Lawn as well. But most of the collisions occur on the Chicago Ridge side of the intersection because the cars are coming out of the mall.
“The cars often inch out into traffic past the stop sign, or don’t stop at all before crossing Ridgeland,” said Amato.
In late April, the village issued an invitation for statements of qualifications from IDOT pre-qualified engineering firms that want to assist with the completion of Engineering Phase III for the installation of new traffic signal and associated intersection improvements.
But Pufundt said it could still be next May before the streetlight is up, and even that is not guaranteed.
“We don’t want to wait until next year to get that light. I don’t want to think of the number of accidents we will see,” said Amato.
In an effort to spur some action, Amato also sent accident reports to investigative reporter Pam Zekman with CBS Channel 2 News, but does not expect much to come of it either.
Trustee Lisel Kwartnik suggested putting up a “right-turn only” sign at the 99th Street exit from the mall, so vehicles wouldn’t be crossing traffic lanes on Ridgeland to go north or east.
However, Pufundt reported at a recent meeting that while the village is entitled to do that, traffic engineers advised against it because it would cause back-ups on Ridgeland.
“The timing of the lights would have to be changed,” said Pufundt, and then changed back when the new light is finally installed.
“We’re getting the runaround,” said Marilyn Scalfaro, a neighbor of Amato’s who is equally upset about all the delays.
“We should at least have a four-way stop there,” suggested Scalfaro, who said she has witnessed at least one fatal crash there in recent years.