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After Alderman's Protest, City Agrees to Halt Road Construction

By Heather Cherone | July 20, 2015 3:01pm | Updated on July 21, 2015 8:09am

Ald. John Arena, l., (45th) blocked crews from continuing work at Lamon and Wilson avenues Monday morning. [Kenji Kerins]

JEFFERSON PARK — Hours after Ald. John Arena (45th) on Monday used his car to block city efforts to close a street, Chicago officials agreed to reopen the road and hold a public meeting about their plans, the alderman said.

Arena said he opposed the project — which he was not notified of before work started this weekend — because it turns over a public street to a billboard company.

City crews tore out the pavement along Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue, permanently closing the road in front of the Mayfair Pumping Station to traffic despite Arena's strenuous objections.

Arena — who is often at loggerheads with city departments and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration — parked his car Monday morning across Wilson Avenue to stop the work that began over the weekend.

But Arena said late Monday that city crews would "backfill the site and temporarily cover the hole so that the road is open for driving."

Arena said a meeting with city transportation and water officials as well as representatives of the mayor's office Monday afternoon was "fruitful."

In the coming weeks, city officials will "investigate other options for locating the billboard" and study the impact the road's closure will have on traffic in Jefferson Park and what should be done to mitigate it, Arena said.

Before work restarts at the site, a public meeting will take place to allow residents to voice their opinion about where the billboard should be located and whether the road should be closed, Arena said.

"There will be a short pause in work as information is compiled and shared" about the impact of closing Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue on traffic, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Arena called the decision by City Hall to turn the intersection of Wilson and Lamon avenues into a cul de sac "unilateral and inappropriate."

Heather Cherone says Arena is usually informed before roadwork:

[Kenji Kerins]

A city spokesman said closing the street was a safety decision but acknowledged the project would allow a 90-foot-tall electronic billboard to be built in what until last week was the middle of Wilson Avenue, rather than on the front lawn of the pumping station as originally planned.

Arena said Monday morning he could "only assume that I was not informed because [city] officials know that I would have required them to present their plans to the community and assess the negative impact it would have on our residents.” 

Arena likened the city's actions to former Mayor Richard M. Daley's decision to tear up the runways at Meigs Field under the cover of night to prevent dissent over his plan to turn that lakefront acreage into a park and nature sanctuary.

The decision to permanently close Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue was "designed to enhance safety" near the Mayfair Pumping Station, where there is "a history of excessive speeding," Claffey said.

"These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson," Claffey said.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said his office was not informed city officials planned to permanently close Wilson Avenue to traffic at Lamon Avenue. [Kenji Kerins]

Claffey did not respond to questions about why the alderman's office or nearby residents were not informed of the plan to close Wilson Avenue permanently at Lamon Avenue.

Arena objected to the billboards, which were approved by the City Council in 2012, and asked city officials to move the billboard planned for Lamon and Wilson. Once built, it would be visible to drivers heading toward O'Hare Airport on the Kennedy Expressway.

"Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities," Arena said.

A white pole will form part of the base for a 90-foot-tall electronic billboard to be built in what until last week was the middle of Wilson Avenue. [Kenji Kerins]

The closure would make the often-gridlocked intersection of Cicero and Lawrence avenues worse, Arena said.

It would also prevent residents of the townhomes at Lamon and Lawrence avenues from leaving their homes and heading south to the Edens Expressway or Cicero Avenue.

In addition, the garbage trucks that service the entire Northwest Side will be forced to exit the maintenance yard south of the pumping station via Lawrence Avenue, Arena said.

"I have called for work to stop and for [city officials] to come before our community and explain why this plan was implemented without input," Arena said. "Short of a compelling rationale that is supported by the community, I will advocate for the restoration and reopening of this street."

Kristina Grosser Brucker said she was "outraged" that city officials had closed the intersection, which she uses at least twice a day to get to and from her home on Lawrence Avenue near Lamon Avenue.

"The traffic on Lawrence has already noticeably increased" since the closure, Brucker said. "Safety is an issue. I'm really upset about the whole thing."

Residents can register their opinion about the closure via an online survey, Brucker said.

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