By Siri Bulusu
Area businesses are enthusiastic about a city plan to transform the crumbling Western Ave. viaduct into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, but wish the city would let them in on the details.
The four-phase project, estimated to last between 18 and 24 months, will replace the Western Ave. viaduct with a five-point intersection between Western, Belmont and Clybourn Avenues, with wider sidewalks, pedestrian islands and landscaping, said a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation at a public forum this week.
The 54-year-old viaduct is an eyesore for community residents who have long awaited a solution from the city.
“I will be very happy when that bypass is gone,” said Laura Davis, owner of Fixture, a boutique retail store located at 2108 W. Roscoe Street, just a few blocks from the future construction site. “I feel like it’s very easy for people to not come into the neighborhood because of it.”
“I’ve seen the plans and it’s phenomenal,” said Kenneth Ludwig, owner of Kenneth Ludwig Chicago, a designer show room located blocks from the soon-to-be-demolished Western Ave. overpass.
“It will brighten the street and make it pedestrian friendly,” Ludwig said. “In that sense, the beautification and foot-traffic will be great.”
The CDOT told concerned residents at Tuesday’s public forum that it plans to begin construction mid-February “weather permitting” but will not release a final schedule until the contractor confirms it with the city. The lack of a clear schedule means some frustrated business owners are sitting on their hands for the time being.
Jesus Carrasco and his business partner Veronica Angulo, owners of the Blue Light Tavern located one block north of the doomed viaduct, are awaiting the demolition schedule to coordinate their own business’s renovations.
“There will be a lot of dirt and dust so we thought we’d make some ourselves,” Carrasco said. The co-owners are awaiting a schedule of the construction so they may overlap their in-house work with the reduced foot-traffic.
“We want the neighborhood to look nicer, so we’re not hidden under a bridge,” Angulo said. “There will be more traffic and it will be a good time for us to add a kitchen.”
Angulo said that rezoning and permit issues will take up most of their time, but they won’t really move forward with their renovation until they see specific dates from the city. Ludwig also finds himself searching for solutions to make the transition easier on his clients.
“I’m trying to skip certain blocks and go a different way,” Ludwig said. “Maybe they’ll implement a different bus route to help my clients come in. My planning depends on communication from the city.”
“We all know we have to have a little sacrifice, but to have another major artery on the borders on a neighborhood chocked… that I don’t comprehend,” Ludwig added.
Chief Bridge Engineer Luis D. Benitez of CDOT said during Tuesday’s public meeting that a project this big will inevitably bring about major impact and inconveniences.
“We’re doing infrastructure improvements instead of not doing anything and letting the infrastructure fall apart,” Benitez said. “We’re doing as much outreach as possible to minimize conflicts or any misunderstanding with the community.”
Davis, a few blocks away from the main construction site, is not immediately concerned about traffic on Western Ave. being condensed into a single lane and said the project may even drive customers into the neighborhood streets, past her shop.
She guesses neighborhood residents will want to shop local instead of going to “the big box stores” in a different area of town.
“There will be more people coming up and down Roscoe and that could be good for us,” Davis said, adding “If I were on Belmont or Western I would be very concerned.”
“We’re all kind of lingering through it. It’s mostly the lack of communication,” Ludwig said. “The typical M.O. of the city is to do it and beg for forgiveness later.”
As they await further start-date information from CDOT, Roscoe Village business owners are resigned to rolling with the punches.
“Let’s schedule a lot of construction plans and hope they survive,” Ludwig said. “Welcome to Chicago.”