A week after the Julian meeting, the senator announced another, this one of his own devising, about fixing the Eisenhower expressway. It was to be held at another middle school, Gwendolyn Brooks, a few blocks down Washington Boulevard from Julian.
Chief among state officials to be on hand — and with others, held up for admiration — was to be the state’s secretary of transportation and as such director of the Illinois Department of Transportation, the formidable IDOT, the senator announced in a release.
This was Ann Schneider, who was to resign under a cloud a scant nine months later, thanked tersely by the governor for “years of hard work and dedication.”
He did not thank her for drawing down on him accusations of “perpetuating [Gov.] Blagojevich-era practices” by hiring and promoting without apparent cause her stepdaughter and hundreds of others, as charged by the Better Government Association, thus “tainting” her leadership.
He introduced her replacement as “a proven leader” who would make “an exceptional Transportation Secretary,” making no mention of her one hundred percent lack of public-transportation experience. Not that Schneider knew a hell of a lot.
The coming meeting would demonstrate that. The senator thought she would offer “details [of what] will affect the life of our community for decades to come.” But she was to do no such thing, referring all questions to staff,
In any case, the senator wanted “to be sure that Oak Park’s voice [was] heard,” to provide Oak Parkers “an additional opportunity to . . . shape future plans to the greatest extent possible,” he announced.
Already, he told Wednesday Journal readers. “Any reconfiguration of the expressway will remain in the existing footprint,” which was not guaranteed from the start, he wrote. Moreover, “potential future” extension of the CTA Blue Line was assured.
The redundant “potential future” expansion — eliminating potential past or present — inflicted a double whammy to extending the Blue Line — to Oak Brook, where the jobs were, as some urged — in the senator’s lifetime. It was most likely never considered in the first place.
The existing footprint, by the way, is a tribute to Oak Park’s clout, undisturbed since the village forced elimination of the fourth lane in the mile and a half that runs through the village and creating the bottleneck which has forced countless drivers to get in line for the three-lane stretch along Oak Park’s south end — and wait more than 14 million hours a year in 2002, making it the 19th-worst bottleneck in the country, per the Federal Highway Administration.
This was three down from Tampa’s 16th-place “Malfunction Junction” but was far outpaced by Chicago’s own third-place “Circle interchange,” also known as the “spaghetti bowl,” with a whopping 25 million hours per annum down the wait-time rat hole.
Oak Park leaders, this time including the senator, were not about to defeat IDOT’s desire to add a lane in both directions and move ramps at Harlem and Austin to the right side of the expressway — eliminating two major elements of special treatment for Oak Park and special headaches for motorists. Rather, they were urging villagers to push for “mitigation of impacts” from these changes.
Oddly enough, none of this information was to be aired at the coming meeting, though it clearly loomed big in IDOT’s plan.
As for the meeting itself, after the newspaper and news-release announcement came a series of robo-calls in which the senator urged citizens to come and hear the experts.
It was a gathering that he instigated, vigorously promoted, and eventually presided over, with heavy political involvement and frequent expressions of mutual admiration by and for state officials in attendance, elected and otherwise.
Nothing was said, however, except in passing about politically unattached community groups, notably the Southeast Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO), who had been discussing the Eisenhower over many months, even years.
On the contrary. This meeting was announced as if SEOPCO had never existed. The senator wasn’t so much supplying a forum for citizens as hitting once again the campaign trail. A primary was only months away. It was his time to make a splash — neither SEOPCO’s nor anyone else’s.
— to be continued —