Originally published in Journal & Topics, September 1, 2020. 

Major Focus On Waukegan Road, Cleveland Street Following July Fatality

The project to install pedestrian traffic calming signals at Waukegan Road and Cleveland Street and Caldwell Avenue and Cleveland has been identified and discussed for years, but delays ensued since both roads are state-controlled routes.

Last month, village trustees awarded a contract to perform a traffic study to move that project along and Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-8th) held a hearing calling for greater transparency in the process the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) uses to prioritize which projects are selected and which receive funding.

The village has several road projects in various stages of planning and execution underway to improve roadway safety for pedestrians. The Waukegan and Cleveland traffic safety control device project received new scrutiny after 13-year-old Sam Yousif was killed crossing Waukegan Road at Cleveland on his bike in July.

Both intersections are identified in the village’s 2014 multi-modal plan looking at pedestrian and bike routes as problem intersections, which needed to be addressed. Residents have complained about several accidents at Waukegan and Cleveland dating back to 2013.

The village also found savings in a police garage project funded by bonds, which would allow those bond funds to be used for other road projects, freeing up motor fuel tax funds for the Cleveland projects.

Village officials were seeking federal funds to pay for the Cleveland projects, which have more requirements and would have taken more time. By using motor fuel tax funds, all that is required is IDOT approval.

“IDOT needs to engage the public in a different way,” Villivalam said. “Why is a project on a list for every year, but never gets done. We need to have an open and honest dialogue on transparency and equity as it relates to the process in which projects are prioritized and selected to receive funding. Additionally, I think it’s important to have a project selection process that is transparent and facilitates productive communication between IDOT and those they contract with. Prioritizing transparency and equity would ensure public trust in the state’s transportation and infrastructure efforts as well as shed light on questions such as why a project that has been set to receive funding but has not yet been completed is taking so long to complete or what it will take to complete it.”

Another major multi-jurisdictional project is finding a safe route along Oakton Street, through Caldwell from Niles to Niles West High School.

The $4.2 million project involves the villages of Niles, Morton Grove, and Skokie along with IDOT, and the Cook County Forest Preserve, with Morton Grove as the lead agency.

Plans are in place to build a 10-ft. wide, 1.7-mile long path from Niles West High School along Oakton Street to Howard and Caldwell. Currently, there is no safe pedestrian path along Oakton Street to the school, Morton Grove Village Administrator Ralph Czerwinski said.

The project was recently awarded a $90,000 Cook County grant for project engineering. Federal grants of $1.76 million are also being sought. Land acquisition is being worked on by Morton Grove and the Village of Skokie is currently drafting an intergovernmental agreement for the project.