Western Interruptus — It Starts

Gary Kopycinski

Commentary

We’ve been waiting for this for some time now.

The State of Illinois has been promising a complete reconstruction of Western Avenue for years.  Scheduling and funding are separate issues, however.  Plans have been approved for a while, but we were repeatedly told the project was getting bumped back another year or two as we lined up to cross what is arguably the worst railroad crossing in the south suburbs.

At least it has my vote. 

We’ve been complaining about the crossing for years.  And for years we’ve been told that the Western Avenue reconstruction project is on its way, so there would be no major repairs to the tracks.  Many times I’ve slowed down to a crawl to save the car’s suspension or attempted to find the safest route over the tracks at 30 mph, mumbling an expletive as I remembered the eternal promise that some day….

A couple of summers past a neighbor called to tell me about a trickle of water coming from beneath Western at 26th St.  I had noticed the water as well – an eternal fountain just bubbling up from the depths.  Once again, since the state has jurisdiction on Western, we had to wait.  The state didn’t see the sense of ripping up an intersection for a trickle of water when major construction was on the horizon.

Eventually the water stopped.  Somehow.

Finally, that’s about to change.

We’ll be mumbling expletives for a different reason soon enough.  The construction begins Tuesday, April 1.

It’s an April Fool’s greeting from the State of Illinois.

The next several months are going to be very difficult.  Many of us take Western every morning on our way to work.  That’s going to take a bit longer every day.  The EJ&E tracks will close completely for a week on Saturday, April 19.  Cross before 8 a.m. if you need to.  Orchard will be a bit busier for a while.

And I know my dog won’t be happy either.  Right now he feels the need to yell at everyone standing at the bus stop on Western across from Norwood Plaza.  I’m sure he’ll be delighted to yap even louder at the numerous construction personnel who will be making a temporary home on Western for the better part of a year.

I do remember the patience our neighbors on Sauk Trail showed during that massive reconstruction project.  Visiting with some of them while all of it was going on, I found their loudest call was simply for information.  They asked basic questions:  What’s next?  When should this section be completed?  How long until that phase is done?  Even on the hot and humid afternoons I stopped by, everyone seemed to understand that things would get better.  And they did.

One gentleman jested and asked, “When it’s all over, could we close Sauk Trail and hold a block party?”  After visiting a number of homes that afternoon, I actually started to give a serious reply.

He laughed.  I finally got it.

So, I’ll try to laugh as well over the next several months as we watch Western Avenue get ripped apart, gradually widened, and rebuilt.  The final product will be 5 lanes: two northbound, two southbound, and a turning lane down the middle.  There’s no groundbreaking ceremony to get it all started, and in the end, there will be no ribbon cutting ceremony or block party to wrap it up.  We’ll get in our cars some morning a few months from now and realize that the crews, cones and barriers are all gone.

In the meantime, it starts now.