An exploration of alternatives to the closure of Cornell Drive is in order

To the Editor:

We confess that we are confused. City Hall on Friday estimated the cost to taxpayers for the CDOT-designed road changes needed to accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets at $175 million. On February 14, Park District CEO Mike Kelly estimated the costs to the public of infrastructure projects tied to Obama Foundation plans at $160 million. Mayor Rahm Emanuel indicated back on January 18 of this year that the cost of widening South Lake Shore Drive, only a small portion of the work that CDOT is proposing, would be $100 million plus.

Not only do the numbers change, but what exactly would be covered is unclear. The Chicago Tribune reported that the plan calls for “four-to-five” new underpasses, including one at 67th Street and Lake Shore Drive. This underpass relates solely to the proposed golf course merger/expansion, a project that is still on the drawing boards. Mike Kelly has indicated that the cost to the public of this and another golf course-related underpass would be $30 million. Is the closure of Marquette Drive, again related solely to the golf course proposal, also included? It is unclear whether these estimates include the necessary engineering and environmental analysis. To top it off, while we can anticipate that the Chicago Plan Commission, being appointed by the Mayor, will approve the CDOT plan, these plans are the subject of an intensive federal review process, recently extended until at least December.
One thing is clear, though: the mayor expects the taxpayers to be on the hook for a tidy sum. It appears to us that an exploration of alternatives to the closure of Cornell Drive – the sole reason for all this massive and costly work – is in order.

~Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch