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Kadner: LaGrange Road project finally begins

An electronic sign warns motorists coming constructithwill widen LaGrange Road OrlPark Illinois Wednesday May 1 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times

An electronic sign warns motorists of the coming construction that will widen LaGrange Road in Orland Park, Illinois, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 8, 2013 6:21AM



Motorists this week are seeing the first signs of the long-awaited, much-dreaded, LaGrange Road widening project through Orland Park.

Originally scheduled to begin last year, the state launched preliminary work on Monday that will lead to the removal of existing medians from 131st to 159th streets.

Once destroyed, the medians will be converted to temporary lanes to keep traffic flowing as the larger construction project gets under way, perhaps in August.

Ultimately, the $100 million-plus project will create three lanes in each direction on LaGrange Road from 131st to 179th streets divided by a 27-foot-wide landscaped median that will severely restrict the number of left turns available to reach businesses along one of the busiest commercial strips in the Southland.

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation said the project was delayed a year due to complications in the purchase of rights-of-way along LaGrange Road.

About 150 different properties had to be obtained, and although the majority were privately owned, a number were owned by “non-condemnable” entities such as school districts, local governments and the U.S. government.

Obtaining the properties delayed the project by five to seven months, and some of the parcels still haven’t been acquired, according to an IDOT spokesman.

Most of the initial work to remove the medians will take place at night, Monday through Friday between 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

However, utilities are being moved and extensive drainage work done south of 153rd Street. The drainage work will occur from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., according to an IDOT spokesman.

There will be no work done from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday because of the road’s heavy volume of traffic at that time.

The entire project is expected to continue through next summer.

Since left turns are going to be restricted by the higher and wider medians, many motorists will have to make U-turns to access businesses on LaGrange Road once construction is finished.

As part of the negotiating process, Orland Park officials were able to get IDOT to agree to install a traffic signal at Darvin Furniture, 154th Street and LaGrange Road. Darvin is one of the largest furniture retailers in Cook County.

In the short term, this project is going to mean a lot of inconvenience for shoppers heading to and from the Orland Square and Orland Park Place malls on LaGrange Road, but it will likely have a bigger impact on the dozens of small businesses along the road.

IDOT has estimated that from 34,00 to 42,000 vehicles a day use the stretch of LaGrange Road between 131st and 179th streets. Based on my personal experience, that number seems low.

It should be emphasized that village officials did not demand the extra-wide median that will eventually contain trees, shrubs, flowers and an element to water all the greenery.

IDOT contends that it’s including the median to comply with federal highway planning guidelines for roads with more than three lanes in each direction. The wider medians improve safety, according to IDOT officials.

As a driver who often has been confounded by traffic patterns in suburbs and portions of Chicago alien to me, roadway “safety” devices almost always frustrate me.

For example, in unfamiliar territory you look for a store sign or street address and then seek a place to turn.

Flat medians that can be traversed by car, or frequent turning lanes, make life easy.

Most of us are not used to make U-turns in the middle of a busy intersection, although this is allowed by state law unless otherwise prohibited.

And because most of us are not used to cars making frequent U-turns, as we wait to turn right out of some shopping strip, we’re not expecting the car coming off a busy street to suddenly swing into the path of our vehicle as its driver performs a U-turn.

Maybe I’m exaggerating the complexity of the process. People have a way of adapting.

And the transportation planners have lots of studies that show this wide-median system is much safer.

But, you know what, as a consumer I often take the path of least resistance.

As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said about a popular restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

It’s a fact of life that the busier a commercial area is, the more business it will attract.

And the more lanes you add to a busy road, the more traffic it will carry in the future.

Compared to some west and north suburb, the Southland actually has pretty good traffic flow. Orland Park stands out as a bottleneck because the village has been so commercially successful.

And some of its traffic congestion might have been resolved had the region’s leaders long ago connected Harlem and Cicero avenues via 151st Street, creating an alternative to 159th Street.

It’s going to be interesting over the next few years to see how motorists adapt to the new LaGrange Road.

My guess is that people will be so relieved when the construction is finally done that there won’t be many complaints about those U-turns.



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