State approves new billboards
by BRIAN NADIG
Two digital billboards could be among the first installed near the junction of the Kennedy and Edens expressways as part of a plan by the city to raise $155 million over a 20-year period.
The locations of all 34 billboards, which will be placed on city-owned land near expressways, were announced last year, but the Illinois Department of Transportation has been slow to approve the sites. The state agency is required to ensure that the billboards adhere to the guidelines in the Federal Highway Beautification Act.
The state recently approved 11 of the sites, including two on the Northwest Side. The sites are at 4639 N. Lamon Ave. near the Mayfair Pumping Station and 4840 W. Sunnyside Ave. near a city Department of Water Management yard.
Alderman John Arena (45th) was one of six aldermen to vote against the digital billboard program, which has been championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a way to generate revenue. Four digital billboards are planned for the 45th Ward, and all of the locations are too close to houses, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.
Although each of the billboards in the 45th Ward will be one-sided and face an expressway, the glow from them will be felt by nearby home owners, Brugh said. "There is the light pollution, and it’s going to be gaudy," he said. "The alderman is objecting to all four locations."
The other two billboards would be installed on Northwest Highway, one at Austin Avenue near the Gladstone Park Metra station and the other at Menard Avenue near a Senior Suites living complex.
The Gladstone Park sites are "very close" to a residential area, and based on federal restrictions, a stronger case to deny those locations can be made compared to the sites in Jefferson Park, Brugh said. "We continue to lobby the state government," he said. "The alderman has talked to the governor."
One of the locations nearly caused a company to drop plans to move to Gladstone Park because of concerns that the base of the billboard would restrict vehicle access to the rear of the company’s building, according to Arena.
Brugh said that it is not clear when the Jefferson Park billboards will be installed and when the state will make a determination on other billboards in the ward.
Although not on the initial state-approved list, a two-sided digital billboard is planned on the Edens on a site near a Kmart department store, 5033 N. Elston Ave. Another billboard would be located at Foster Avenue and the Tri-State Tollway.