There’s a preferred plan to improve safety and traffic flow at the intersection of 47th Street and East Avenue, but no one should expect the changes to be coming any time soon.

IDOT, which began studying the intersection — which serves as a community boundary for Brookfield, McCook and LaGrange — in January 2013, is wrapping up Phase I of the project. Now that a preferred plan has been identified, the agency hopes to wrap up the first phase by fall. It’ll be another 18 to 24 months before construction plans are finalized, said Kimberly Murphy, consultant studies unit head for IDOT’s Bureau of Programming.

In May, the Illinois Department of Transportation unveiled its preferred plan to residents during a meeting of the 47th Street/East Avenue Community Advisory Group, and IDOT is expected to revisit the plan, with some minor updates, at the LaGrange Village Board meeting on June 23.

For now, a grade-separation structure — either an underpass or overpass — is off the table in favor of a solution that involves traffic lights, the installation of safety barriers, new pavement markings and some tweaking of traffic flow at the intersection.

“Most people would agree that the intersection needs to be signalized,” said Murphy.

And simplifying a complex intersection like the one at 47th Street and East Avenue has been a long process.

“It’s definitely a unique situation,” said Murphy. “There’s only one other like it that I can think of, at Wood Dale Road and [Route 19]” in northwest suburban Wood Dale.

“There’s definitely a lot more involved when you have train tracks crossing two legs of an intersection,” said Murphy. 

The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad tracks arc across both 47th Street west of the intersection and across East Avenue south of the intersection. With only stop signs controlling the intersection, traffic is often snarled during rush hours and after trains roll through the area.

Adding stoplights will help keep traffic moving, said Murphy, and should help clear traffic jams quicker than stop signs. The lights should also improve safety by eliminating most of the problems created by impatient drivers waiting their turns at the stop signs.

Stoplights will be timed to help prevent traffic from stopping past the railroad tracks on eastbound 47th Street and northbound East Avenue.

In addition, the plan calls for Bluff Avenue — a cutoff road connecting 47th Street and East Avenue on the southwest corner of the intersection — to run one way to the south. The road presently is a two-way street.

“If it’s two-way, we’d have to add another phase to the signal on Bluff Avenue,” said Murphy. “With a railroad line involved, you want to simplify things as much as possible.”

A row of plastic posts would be placed along the middle of East Avenue south of the tracks to prevent cars from turning left onto Bluff Avenue.

While the traffic signals will help improve traffic flow, they won’t prevent train delays. And while LaGrange in particular has registered clear opposition to a grade-separation structure at the intersection, train traffic is predicted to double over the next 20 years, according to the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program. By 2039, according to CREATE, there will be 97 trains per day traversing that intersection.

“If in the future there’s more train traffic, and it’s expected to increase, we could revisit grade separation,” said Murphy.