Residents want alternative to installing billboard in middle of Wilson-Lamon intersection
by BRIAN NADIG
Plans to make Wilson Avenue a one-way street to allow for a digital billboard along the Kennedy Expressway were not well-received at an Oct. 28 community meeting.
Many of the 60 residents at the meeting said that a new location must be found for the 90-foot-tall billboard.
However, city officials said that the city’s contract with the billboard company, along with federal and state billboard regulations, greatly limit the number of feasible locations in the area for the billboard.
Plans had called for the 90-foot-tall billboard to be installed on the grounds of the Mayfair Pumping Station at Wilson and Lamon avenues, but that was later ruled out due to underground infrastructure related to the station. A new plan calls for the billboard to be placed in the middle of the Wilson-Lamon intersection, forcing a short stretch of Wilson to become one-way eastbound in front of the station.
Traffic jams are common on Lawrence Avenue during rush hour, and many residents use Wilson to avoid the traffic signal at the Lawrence-Cicero intersection.
Several residents said at the meeting that during rush hour it can take 10 minutes to travel two blocks on Cicero between Wilson and Lawrence and that the left-turn signal on northbound Cicero is so short it allows for only two cars to turn.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that a final decision on the project has not been made. “I’m fighting for you to try to keep this road open,” said Arena, who voted against the ordinance authorizing the installation of digital billboards on city-owned land.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said after the meeting that concerns were raised in 2012 about digging a hole on the pumping station’s lawn to allow for a billboard. “We were told it was not a problem, and that does not appear to be the case today,” Brugh said.
“Why should we pay for a mistake someone else made,” said resident Gary Hudson. “Our community has to suffer for someone not doing due diligence.”
Maureen West, the project manager for the city’s digital billboard network, said that 34 locations citywide were chosen for digital billboards after an initial review of 13,000 possible spots and that the Wilson-Lamon location received one of the highest grades in terms of visibility to motorists on the expressway.
In order to relocate the planned billboard, the city’s contract with the company stipulates that a location of comparable worth to the billboard company must be found, Brugh said. Several of the sites which residents suggested at the meeting are not allowed under current laws because they are too close to an existing billboard or to a residentially zoned property, he said.
One of the recommended sites which will be examined is the former site of the Leprecan portable washroom company at 4808 W. Wilson Ave., Brugh said. The city is planning to relocate the city Department of Streets and Sanitation yard at 4639 N. Lamon Ave. to the former Leprecan site, which the city recently purchased.
Not all of the former Leprecan site is eligible for a billboard because it would be too close to an existing billboard along a railroad embankment to the east, Brugh said. Federal law requires a minimum 500 feet separating billboards.
In addition, it is not known if a billboard would interfere with the operations of the planned sanitation yard and if it would be close enough to the expressway to meet the comparable worth criteria in the billboard contract, Brugh said.
Another alternative site could be the former Mayfair Lumber Yard at 4825 W. Lawrence Ave., which the city is trying to acquire through its eminent domain authority. A billboard at the lumber site may have to face the Edens Expressway, and its feasibility would have to be studied, Brugh said.
Some residents also recommended that the billboard be placed on the top of the pumping station’s smokestack.
However, city Department of Water Management commissioner Tom Powers said that the smokestack is being removed as part of the station’s transition from being steam-powered to being fully electrical.
Last summer city crews starting digging up Wilson for the billboard, but the crews left after Arena raised objections. At the time the plan was to close off Wilson to both eastbound and westbound traffic, and Arena said that his office was never notified of that decision.
The transportation department’s latest plan calls for the billboard to still be installed in the street, but Lamon would become one-way southbound from Eastwood Avenue to where it curves at Wilson, which would then become one-way eastbound along the pumping station.
Wilson would remain a two-way street from Cicero west to the former Leprecan site in order to allow garbage trucks to enter the new sanitation yard, which is expected to open later this year.
A resident asked if some of the sidewalk in front of the pumping station could be removed to allow for both the billboard and two-way traffic on Wilson, but Powers said that drop shafts in that area would prohibit that.
Arena said that there also is no room to widen Wilson to the south because of the proximity of the expressway embankment.
It is estimated that the planned Wilson-Lamon billboard would generate about $2 million in revenue for the city over a 20-year period.