Meeting on I-57/294 interchange brings out supporters, detractors
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com September 13, 2012 8:28PM
Donnie Davis, left, and his wife, Latasha Davis stand near a map showing the new I-57/294 interchange, which falls on exactly where their current home is, during a Town Hall Meeting for the Tri-State Tollway/I-57 Interchange project at Raday Lounge in Midlothian, IL on Thursday September 13, 2012. The Illinois Tollway and Illinois Department of Transportation will provide a construction update and project overview. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:56AM
Some believe the construction of an interchange linking Interstate 57 with I-294 near Posen is a road to prosperity.
Others — mostly residents who will lose their homes to make room for the on and off ramps — claim it’s a road to financial ruin.
About 50 people, both supporters and detractors of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority project, turned out Thursday night at the Raday Lodge in Midlothian, where the tollway authority hosted a public meeting to provide updates on the project, for which construction already has begun.
Some residents wanted to learn more about the project. But Donnie and Latasha Davis, of Posen, are afraid they already know more than they want to. They are angry because the ramps from 147th Street to I-294 will go right through the space now occupied by their 6-year-old home.
The tollway will be acquiring their land, and the Davises expect an offer within two weeks. They believe their home is worth about $200,000 but think the tollway will offer at least $100,000 less.
Several residents are afraid that because of the collapse in home values when the economy crashed, they won’t have enough equity for a down payment on another home elsewhere, even if they could otherwise afford the mortgage payments.
“People work so hard all their lives to get what they have. Now this,” Donnie Davis said.
“It’s not our fault we’re not able to buy a (replacement) house. The economy is all screwed up,” Latasha Davis said.
Tollway authority executive director Kristi Lafleur expressed dismay that the agency can’t simply give someone $100,000 more than a current appraisal says their homes are worth, saying the agency is beholden to the taxpayers of Illinois.
About 20 houses will have to be demolished for the first phase of the project, which is part of a 15-year, $12 billion capital plan largely funded by the nearly 100 percent increase in toll rates that went into effect earlier this year.
The first phase consists of building ramps linking northbound I-57 to northbound I-294, and southbound I-294 with southbound I-57. Officials said the first phase will be completed in 2014.
The site is one of two points in the nation where interstates cross but do not connect, according to the tollway. It says the interchange will accommodate 76,000 vehicles per day and save drivers $4 million annually in fuel otherwise burned as drivers use alternate routes.
Two Posen residents, Alan Kuna and Posen Park District Commissioner Terrence “T.J.” Whitcomb, said Thursday they are concerned about safety on 147th Street.
Drivers “go 20 mph over the speed limit now. They’ll probably be driving 70 mph after the ramp is built,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb and Kuna want a pedestrian overpass built so children can cross 147th Street safely. But that not part of the plan, according to Rocco Zucchero, deputy chief of engineering for planning for the tollway.
He said building a pedestrian overpass would be too costly and the potential problem would be addressed with pedestrian traffic signals at the crossing.
Lafleur, Midlothian Mayor Terry Stephens and state Reps. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) and Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) said the interchange is needed and will bring economic development to the Southland.
“This is a long time coming,” Riley said. “In many ways, the south suburbs have been the redheaded stepchild.”
“This will be an economic engine for the Southland,” Rita said.
Lafleur said the project will create 4,000 jobs during construction and 2,000 permanent jobs.