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At Circle Interchange Hearing, Righteous Community Anger

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The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) invited the public down to a special hearing on the $420M Circle Interchange reconstruction plan yesterday afternoon. They might now wish they hadn't. Attendance was dominated by the residents of the 67-unit Green Street Lofts and their sympathizers. At play: exactly what IDOT intends to do about the NW ramp flyover that comes dauntingly close to the south face of the loft building in its "preferred alternative" plan.

In the hearing itself and in the secondary presentation space filled with diagrams and IDOT officials, the Green Street Loft question dominated. And IDOT could offer no direct solutions to the very real concerns about damage to property values, health, quality of life, and the 125-year-old building's structural integrity — already challenged by highway vibrations with things as they are. IDOT representatives spoke, instead, of the long term benefits in CO2 reduction, reduced idling, and marginally faster commute times in their 2040 projections. They allowed that public input would be "taken into consideration". Why is IDOT being so opaque, you ask? Because they've already conducted the required battery of pubic working group (PWG) meetings and general public meetings, and no formal vehicle remains for design modifications. The engineers and officials present tried explaining this procedural snag but that only served to stoke the anger, never far removed.

Oh, and IDOT completely forgot about 400 S Green Street when conducting impact studies and identifying obvious stakeholders. The condo owners at Green Street never knew about the five PWG sessions or the one general stakeholder meeting last summer. A postcard announcing the public hearing arrived last month, the first notice sent to residents. For more investigation of the Green Street affair, we suggest checking out Steven Vance's article for Streetsblog.

IDOT is playing ball, half-heartedly anyway. Based on complaints in weeks prior to yesterday's hearing, they moved the offending ramp from 7.5' to the southeast building edge to between 19' and 26'. Some of the threatened landscaping will return, but the elevation of the structure and its safety implications (noise, pollution, accidents) will remain an issue. They seem reluctant, however, to fall back on one of their "less preferred" alternative designs — one that wouldn't include a flyover, for instance. That alternative is the godsend of affected residents, and their focus turned to it continually throughout the hearing.

Ald. Robert Fioretti was also in attendance last night and he spoke out with populist fervor following IDOT's presentation. "This is the worst public outreach I've ever seen from IDOT," Ald. Fioretti said to a packed house. He also railed against the absurdity of failing to identify Green Street Loft residents as stakeholders and emphasized that the plan is not a done deal. "Because if IDOT had the money this room would be lined with union contractors, and there's nothing wrong with that." Ald. Fioretti concluded by asking concerned citizens to appeal to the Governor for more hearings. He'll be doing the same.
·IDOT Failed to Inform People of Highway Ramp That Will Roar By Their Home [Streetsblog]
·Circle Interchange Project [Official]
·Green Street Lofts [Official]
·Circle Interchange Coverage [Curbed Chicago]