A squalid underpass in Englewood where attackers shot Demario Bailey to death in December is among 80 viaducts slated for an upgrade, Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to announce Sunday.
Beside getting new lighting and sidewalks, 11 of the viaducts also will undergo major overhauls, including repaving.
Demario was killed Dec. 13 when four teenagers attacked him and his twin brother, Demacio, and took his coat.
The teen was just days away from his 16th birthday. All four suspects were apprehended and have been charged as adults.
The viaduct at 63rd and State Street where Demario was gunned down is typical of the eyesores that dot many of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Often poorly lit, with seeping water and crumbling sidewalks, they’re prime spots for assaults and robberies.
Delores Bailey, mother of the Bailey twins, told me she always told her sons not to walk under the viaduct.
“This is great,” she said of the plan to try to make them safer. ” This is something I prayed for personally. The viaduct can be painted and not just lit up. The kids should be able to walk under the viaduct and see a way to get in and get out.”
Bailey said she hasn’t even driven through the viaduct since her son was killed.
“I just can’t go under there. It is like a dark hole. It makes me sick to my stomach. Anytime you go under a viaduct in the city of Chicago, the streets are raggedy. It is dark and grim and scary.”
Emanuel’s opponent on the April 7 mayoral runoff ballot, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has slammed him on community investment, and the viaduct project is sure to be seen by some as a response to that criticism.
But the mayor said the massive project began in 2012, when 14 viaducts were overhauled during major road reconstruction.
“I know what the charge is, and I know what the record is,” Emanuel told me. “The viaducts is a continuity of the investment in our overall public transportation.”
The Chicago Police Department and the city’s transportation department collaborated on a list of 50 viaducts that needed lighting, paint and sidewalk repair.
“First and foremost, getting them well-lit — that is the most important thing,” Emanuel said.
A major overhaul will take place at 11 other viaducts. The project will cost $16 million and will be paid for with a combination of federal state, city and TIF money.
Railroads own more than half the estimated 1,500 viaducts in Chicago, and they are responsible for maintenance of those.
Michelle Fennessy, a researcher who is the brains behind a viaduct petition on Change.org, has been trying to get service maintenance records for viaducts managed by the railroads. Her petition has attracted 1,189 supporters. Some of the commenters noted the fear viaducts evoke.
“I shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk through my own neighborhood to get home,” wrote one signer.
Another complained, “Even the Northwest Side [viaducts] are despicable and unsanitary.”
“I do think the viaducts repair is good,” Fennessy said. “What I would like to see is that [Emanuel] commit to ongoing repairs and consistent sanitation improvements and really make an effort to clean up across the city.”