Ald. Arena blasts CDOT for wanting to permanently close off Lamon-Wilson for billboard
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman John Arena (45th) criticized a decision by the city Department of Transportation to permanently close the intersection of Lamon and Wilson avenues adjacent to the Mayfair Pumping Station to allow a digital billboard to be installed.
"I have called for work to stop and for CDOT to come before our community and explain why this plan was implemented without input," Arena said in a written statement. "Short of a compelling rationale that is supported by the community, I will advocate for the restoration and reopening of the street."
Arena said later that the department has agreed to fill a hole that was dug and to temporarily cover it, allowing traffic to resume through the intersection, and that efforts will be made to find a better location for the billboard.
Plans called for the billboard to be installed on the front lawn of the pumping station, 4850 W. Wilson Ave., and it is not known when the department decided to install the sign in the middle of the intersection have a cul-de-sac installed on both the Lamon and Wilson sides of the billboard, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.
The department said that the intersection is being closed to improve security at the pumping station and to reduce cut-through traffic on side streets, but representatives of the department have not discussed those concerns with the alderman and the residents, Brugh said.
Brugh said that many residents who live in the neighborhood use Wilson to access Cicero Avenue or the Wilson Avenue entrances to the Edens Expressway and to avoid the difficulty of turning onto Lawrence, where traffic often backs up during rush hour. Residents who live on Laporte Avenue, Lavergne Avenue and Lawler Avenue can access Lamon via Eastwood Avenue.
Arena said that closing the intersection will force trucks entering and leaving the city Department of Streets and Sanitation yard at 4639 N. Lamon Ave. to use "an already congested Lawrence." The city is seeking to buy the former Mayfair Lumber site, 4825 W. Lawrence Ave., and to move the sanitation yard there.
Laporte Avenue resident Chris Stegh said that residents have posted an online survey opposing the project and that if the project does go through, residents will seek to have a stoplight or a stop sign installed on Lawrence at Laporte. Having access to the signalized intersection of Cicero and Wilson provides residents with a safe route when leaving the neighborhood, Stegh said.
Arena said that he does not appreciate the department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration "giving us the Meigs Field treatment," referring to the incident in 2003 when the city tore up the runways at the airport without public notice and in the middle of the night.
The City Council approved the installation of 40 digital billboards on city property in 2013, and the Lamon-Wilson site is one of the last to be installed.
"I voted against the Emanuel administration’s plan to install digital billboards on public land, and I opposed the installation of this billboard in particular," Arena said. "Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities."
Department spokesman Michael Claffey issued the following statement Monday:
"There is a history of excessive speeding on Lamon and Wilson due to cut-through traffic, and this change is designed to enhance safety on Lamon Street and for the Mayfair pumping station. These improvements, while addressing traffic safety and improving conditions on the increasingly residential section of Lamon, also accommodate the placement of a digital sign which was approved by City Council in 2013.
"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."