NORWOOD PARK — The construction of multimillion dollar noise abatement walls along the Kennedy Expressway near O’Hare are not yet complete, but already the fears of some neighbors have come to fruition as the wall has been tagged by vandals.
Construction on the 20-foot-high concrete walls between Cumberland and Harlem began in June and is expected to be completed in the coming months. It was prompted by the recent addition of a flyover lane at the westbound Cumberland exit and an additional lane between Cumberland and Harlem Avenues.
Though neighbors signed off on the plan, officials at Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church have been critical of the walls. The church is located on the north side of the Kennedy near Redwood Drive.
Church vice president Goran Davidovac expressed fears in the past that the walls would be a magnet for graffiti, and six months into the construction, several panels of the wall are already marked up. Davidovac says it gives people a bad impression of the neighborhood, which he described as mostly quiet and crime-free.
“This is unacceptable everywhere. If you’re coming from O’Hare into the city, that’s your first look at the City of Chicago. That’s the image that you want to portray? It’s not a good image,” Davidovac said.
Noting that he expressed graffiti fears at public hearings and to Block Club Chicago in June, Davidovac said he wasn’t happy to see his prediction ring true.
“I thought to myself, if only I could predict the lottery numbers just as well. I called it almost five years ago, it’s in the testimony that I gave at the public hearing. I said it then, I said it to you six months ago and no one took my concerns seriously and that’s disappointing.”
Because the graffiti is on the highway side of the wall, on both the north and south sides of the highway, it is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s responsibility to remove. According to IDOT spokesperson Maria Castaneda, the agency plans to remove it soon.
“Graffiti removal on the highway side is IDOT’s responsibility and it will be addressed. As an FYI, graffiti removal is weather dependent,” Castaneda said in an email.
However, Chris Vittorino, chief of staff for Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said his office contacted IDOT months ago about the graffiti and has not gotten a response.
“We’ve made numerous reports to them and expressed concerns to get it expedited. They are doing their best but unfortunately they don’t have the resources that we do,” Vittorino said.
The noise retention walls cost $25 per square foot, or $1.5 million per mile, IDOT said. The distance between Cumberland and Harlem Avenues is approximately 1.8 miles and the distance between Canfield to Harlem is just less than a a mile, so the total cost can be estimated at more than $4 million.
Vittorino added that the new wall is not the only location that’s been targeted by vandals along the Kennedy.
“From the city limits all the way downtown you’ll see graffiti. We’ve expressed our concerns that they have to step up and deal with it a little quicker.”
Thus far, all the graffiti on the new walls have been on the highway side of the wall. Any graffiti on the street-side of the wall would be the responsibility of the City of Chicago to remove, Vittorino said.
Davidovac said he believes the vandals targeted the highway side of the wall for maximum visibility.
“All these vehicles drive past it and there’s a bottleneck there so it gives them a chance to visualize it. If it was art like a mural I’d have a completely different opinion of it, but this is disgusting,” Davidovac said, adding that he’s even considered removing the graffiti himself.
“I’ll cut IDOT slack because of the holidays but after next week there is no forgiveness. I would have gone out there with a paintbrush myself and painted over it but I don’t want to get arrested,” Davidovac said.
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