Traffic an issue with planned Southwest Side sports center
By Mike Nolan email@example.com January 30, 2014 10:00PM
Nichole Sheehan, Project Manager, goes over the layout of the proposed Morgan Park Sports Center for the community meeting to discuss the proposed sports complex at 115th St. and Western at the Beverly Arts Center, Thursday, January 30th, 2014, in Chicago | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2014 5:11PM
While plans for a combination ice arena and gymnastics center in Chicago’s Morgan Park community were generally well received at a public meeting Thursday, many residents expressed concerns about how the multimillion-dollar project would impact traffic.
The Chicago Park District expects to break ground this summer on the 55,000-square-foot Morgan Park Sports Center on the east side of Western Avenue at 115th Street. The work will mean permanently closing off a section of 115th Street east of Western.
The $12 million project would represent the “largest investment we’ve seen in our community in years,” Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) told more than 100 people during the hearing at the Beverly Arts Center.
The project also would cure what O’Shea called an “ugliness” the community has endured for years: vacant land that had been the site of a gas station and grocery store.
The center, first announced last fall, would feature an 80-by-200-foot ice rink with bleachers for as many as 1,000 spectators, and a gymnastics center that would include equipment such as a balance beam, pommel horse and parallel bars. Community rooms are also included in the plans, and the park district expects the center to be open by summer 2015.
The center would be a “world-class training facility” for gymnastics and fill a “void in the community” regarding gymnastics instruction, said Nichole Sheehan, a project manager with the park district.
What has many residents concerned is that the closing of 115th Street as a through street could result in more traffic in the neighborhood, as drivers re-route around it. O’Shea indicated the street closure would begin shortly after construction gets underway, which is expected to be in early summer.
Traffic engineers earlier this winter temporarily closed 115th Street to gauge changes in traffic patterns. The numbers showed that about 20 percent of the normal traffic through Morgan Park “disappeared,” Chris Hutchinson, a traffic engineer working on the project, told the crowd.
“A lot of people avoided the neighborhood entirely” unless they were going to or from the Metra station at 115th Street and Hale Avenue, he said.
But residents wondered if those numbers might be vastly different at other times of the year, such as summer.
Hutchinson said it would be difficult to predict what those patterns would be but acknowledged it would be necessary to take steps to “make sure they’re (drivers avoiding the closure) not speeding.”
O’Shea said it was too soon to seriously discuss measures such as speed bumps until traffic patterns are established and “we know what we have.”