Advancing the Jackson Park Mobility Project in Support of the Obama Presidential Center

In early February, after much anticipation, Civiltech was thrilled to learn that the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) statement for the Federal Actions in and adjacent to Jackson Park (Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Amendment and Transportation Improvements) was approved. The FONSI marks the end of the federal review of the complex and multi-layered Environmental Assessment that Civiltech’s Phase I team, as part of the Chicago Neighborhood Engineering and Construction Team (C*NECT), led, helped produce, and has been working on over the past 3 years.

Jackson Park, located along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s south side, has a celebrated history having been designed by Frederic Law Olmsted and having hosted the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The park’s history is expanding as the site chosen for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC). Civiltech is thrilled to be part of this landmark project and, as part of the C*NECT team, is providing environmental, transportation design, water resources, landscape architecture, and structural services for the transportation improvements necessary to construct the OPC and implement the Chicago Park District’s South Lakefront Framework Plan.

A number of factors contributed to the unique complexities involved in completing the Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition to being a high profile project overall, Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, three federal processes – NEPA, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) for historic properties, and Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act for use of public park space and historic properties – were required and prepared simultaneously in coordination with several agencies. The Section 106 and Section 4(f) approvals were received in December of 2020.

Mary Young, P.E., PTOE and Jen Hyman, P.E.

Mary Young, P.E., PTOE, and Jennifer (Jen) Hyman, P.E., served as Civiltech’s primary representatives leading all three processes. For the NEPA process, Mary and Jen led efforts to evaluate the project’s impacts on the natural and human environment and were responsible for completing the NEPA-404/Merger process with regulatory agencies. As the lead consultants for FHWA and IDOT improvements, they coordinated the technical analyses needed to support the Environmental Assessment. Civiltech’s Madelaine (Maddie) Johnson, P.E., and Samantha Primer, CWS also provided environmental services for the NEPA process.

For Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Mary and Jen led efforts to assess the effects of the project on historic resources. Working with Civiltech historians, Julia Bachrach and Liz Patterson, they completed an identification of historic resources in an Historic Property Inventory (HPI) Report. Also, working with the historians, Mary and Jen assisted with the Assessment of Effects (AOE), which determined the project would have an adverse effect on Jackson Park. Lastly, for this process, they supported and assisted the City with preparing and hosting Consulting Party meetings used to gather feedback on the historic reports.

To secure the Section 4(f) approval, Mary and Jen, with assistance from Maddie, were responsible for leading the evaluation of the project’s potential impacts on Jackson Park as a recreation resource and historic property. They then led the completion of the report for submission to the FHWA.

Source: Historic Property Inventory

For all three processes, Mary and Jen were involved in the coordination of multiple agencies, including the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Park Service (NPS), and others. They were also responsible for critical public involvement. A Public Information Meeting was held in September of 2018 to introduce the federal process to community stakeholders. In October of 2020, a Public Hearing was held to gather feedback on the Environmental Assessment. Due to COVID restrictions, the Public Hearing was comprised of both in person and virtual webinars. Civiltech moderated the webinars; provided the materials, including a pre-recorded presentation for public distribution; and reviewed the nearly 400 public comments received.

In addition to Mary and Jen, a number of Civiltech staff, providing a variety of specialized services had key roles contributing to the technical analyses needed to complete and secure the approvals of the three processes. Tom Liliensiek, P.E., while providing a completed Location Drainage Study for the transportation improvements and continuing work on the Phase II drainage plans, also had significant roles in the Phase I processes. Tom led coordination of the Section 404 permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and led studies for assessing impacts to the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) Project for the Chicago Park District. Additional Water Resources staff, Weronika Moskal, P.E, CFM, and Erin Lisac worked with Tom on these efforts.

The Phase I assessments and ongoing transportation improvement designs included substantial traffic analyses led by Brian DeSalle, P.E., PTOE. Brian completed traffic analyses for nine different design alternatives and coordinated the alternatives with 2050 traffic data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). Brian also prepared a Maintenance of Traffic analysis for the forthcoming construction of the complex transportation improvements. Jim Woods, P.E., PTOE, together with Jason Man, prepared a noise analysis required for the Environmental Assessment defining noise impacts of the transportation improvements and potential mitigation. Jim was also instrumental in preparing the video presentation for the virtual Public Hearing webinars.

Civiltech’s unique multidiscipline staff and service offerings include Landscape Architecture which proved to be an asset to this project. Our Lead Landscape Architect, Phil Hutchinson, PLA, LEED AP, assisted the Chicago Park District with landscaping plans to replace trees that will be removed to accommodate the improvements and construction activities. Brian Sroufe, P.E., PTOE, assisted CDOT in preparing materials necessary for Chicago Plan Commission review and approval in May 2018. The Chicago Plan Commission approval is required of proposals involving the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which applied to the City’s proposed changes in Jackson Park. Brian also led the alternatives analysis for the NEPA-404/Merger process.

The signing of the FONSI represents the successful culmination of 3 years of hard work managing 3 different, complex, and overlapping federal processes. The FONSI is also a testament to the teamwork and talents of the Civiltech and C*NECT staff. As the Phase I assessments come to a successful completion and the design engineering work continues, the Civiltech team was excited to see the recent press release by the Obama Foundation announcing that the Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking is set for 2021.