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O'Hare bypass threatens Des Plaines oasis
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Des Plaines Oasis is in the way of a western bypass around O'Hare International Airport, IDOT engineers said, and plans call for removing the existing structure.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Des Plaines Oasis

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Traffic passes under the Des Plaines Oasis on Interstate 90.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Traffic speeds by diners at the Des Plaines Oasis on Interstate 90.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Traffic speeds by diners at the Des Plaines Oasis on Interstate 90.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/2/2010 12:11 AM

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Building a western bypass around O'Hare International Airport could mean the end of the road for the Des Plaines oasis.

The Illinois Department of Transportation intends to construct an O'Hare bypass that links the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway to the north and the Tri-State Tollway to the south. The project would connect with the future extension of the Elgin O'Hare Expressway east from Itasca into the airport.

The oasis is in the way of the I-90 connection, IDOT engineers said, and plans call for removing the existing structure.

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority officials recognized that the glass-walled rest stop where drivers can grab burgers and coffee is on the firing line but remain hopeful it could be saved.

As engineering designs are still in the early stages, the "tollway has asked that IDOT explore options to retain the oasis as the planning process moves forward," tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said.

IDOT announced its chosen locations for the bypass Dec. 9 after months of working with surrounding communities. Several municipalities opposed options putting the highway through their towns and engineers chose an alternative that is mainly on airport land with the south segment going through Franklin Park and the north segment heading through a portion of Des Plaines.

The angle of approach was calculated to minimize the impact. For example, the plan avoids a mobile home park near I-90, IDOT staff said.

Although the design chosen will "directly impact the oasis, this had the least amount of impact for everything else," IDOT Bureau Chief of Programming Peter Harmet said.

"If you move it in one direction or the other, it's going to get into impacting all kinds of other things."

The oasis was already threatened because of the STAR line, a commuter rail system linking the Southwest, West and Northwest suburbs to each other and O'Hare. A portion of the STAR line would travel along I-90 and conflict with the oasis, engineers said.

However, both projects lack funding, so construction could be years off. The oasis will continue to operate as usual, McGinnis noted.

And in the meantime, "we are evaluating options with both the western bypass and the STAR line that may avoid the oasis," she said.

Asked if the tollway might rebuild the oasis, McGinnis said the STAR and bypass projects would consume significant amounts of right-of-way land, which limits the opportunities to relocate.

Harmet said IDOT had not analyzed where a new oasis would go, but "we will work with the tollway and do whatever is necessary to come up with a new plan."

The oasis was opened in 1959. Daily Herald accounts and Des Plaines Historical Society clippings from that era indicate the rest stop was a popular spot then, with a Fred Harvey restaurant where people gathered for special occasions.

But a recent survey of the tollway's seven oases revealed numerous empty and shuttered businesses. The Des Plaines oasis as of Thursday had about seven closed kiosks and seven open businesses, including a new Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin' Donuts shop. The former operator of the oases, Wilton Partners, is in foreclosure proceedings and a temporary manager has been appointed.

A special tollway committee is reviewing the status of the rest stops and an Illinois Senate panel is looking into the issue and Wilton Partners' dealings with the agency.

Also, early in December, ExxonMobil, which operates gas stations and convenience stores at all seven oases, announced it is seeking to exit its lease and transfer responsibility to Combined Oil Co., a Lincolnshire-based fuel distribution company.

The tollway has 60 days to review the request and is using an independent auditing firm to help evaluate it, McGinnis said.

Stop: Oasis could be rebuilt elsewhere