Leef: Decrepit Harlem Avenue viaduct a victim of gerrymandering
The poor condition of the Harlem Avenue viaduct, the subject of yet another attempt at a government grant -- this one for almost $21 million -- is the result of gerrymandering, the Republican candidate for Illinois' 7th Congressional District seat said during a recent interview.
"This neglected project is another sad result of the adverse effects of gerrymandering," Dr. Jeffrey Leef, who announced his candidacy last spring and recently survived an effort to bump him from the ballot, said during a West Cook News interview. "Specifically, the renovation of a crumbling 104-year-old viaduct gets lost amongst the requests of all the other necessary projects throughout the 7th District. It goes without saying that some of the other projects in the 7th District, in the most economically challenged areas, come first."
The Harlem Avenue viaduct sees heavy traffic and links Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest. OakPark.com recently announced a joint effort by River Forest, Oak Park and Forest Park to apply for an almost $21 million share of $500 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The Harlem Avenue viaduct has been the subject of previous grant attempts, most of which passed it by.
"Getting the multi-million-dollar grant would be the culmination of more than seven years of work, which began with a 2009 feasibility study pointing to the need to revamp the viaduct to improve public safety, access to jobs and to foster economic development," the OakPark.com article said. "That study was funded by an $800,000 federal grant, combined with local funding from Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park."
A quick look reveals why the Harlem Avenue viaduct needs work. Its pillars have little paint remaining, its concrete is crumbling, and pedestrians have to walk perilously close to buses, cars and trucks, as well as avoid occasional falling debris. The bridge remains structurally sound, but the roadway is narrow, with its columns dividing north and southbound lanes. That, combined with heavy traffic, including a large number of trucks and buses, causes frequent backups, the OakPark.com article said.
The needs of Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest should not be discounted, Leef said, "especially when you are talking about a major thoroughfare, such as Harlem Ave., and if anything bumps this project forward, it should be on the merits of the public safety issues which it addresses. First, there is the physical dilapidation of the bridge itself, with the risk of falling debris. But secondly, because of the low clearance of this bridge, it diverts trucks onto local side streets."
That gerrymandering would be behind the problems of the Harlem Avenue viaduct is not a surprising statement from Leef, who has said that gerrymandering is part of why he feels Illinois is the most corrupt state in the country.
Leef, a University of Chicago radiologist, told West Cook News that he is a physician by vocation and a politician by necessity, and that he jointed the race for two reasons. “No. 1, there’s a two-party system, and there’s no way that any elected position should go unopposed,” Leef said shortly after announcing his candidacy. “And secondly, I’m a strong believer in term limits – one to two terms at the most.”
Earlier this month, Leef survived an effort to bump him from the November ballot, thanks to a U.S. District Court judge who agreed with Chicago-area GOP officials' allegations that Democrats were behind the effort.
While Leef agrees that something needs to be done to pay for improvements at the Harlem Avenue viaduct, Leef said he does not support additional taxation for the project.
"The answer does not lie in further increasing taxes, of which Oak Park and River Forest are amongst the highest in the state," Leef said. "Again, for the state that is in a spiral toward bankruptcy, transparent accounting of how the money is being spent is long overdue."
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