ELMHURST – Plans to install electronic message signs on the bridges over the Robert T. Palmer Drive underpass have advanced.
The Elmhurst City Council voted 11-3 on Oct. 15 to ask city staff to obtain competitive proposals for the manufacture and installation of the signs.
The electronic signage, with one sign facing southbound traffic and one sign facing northbound traffic, would replace the current banners and its related program, in which public works personnel install banners weekly.
The banners display messages from the city and various community groups, which bring a banner they have created to the public works facility and pay a $35 fee at City Hall, according to the Public Affairs and Safety Committee report. A crew of two to four people and two to three trucks installs banners on Mondays, closing two traffic lanes in the process, with a cost of about $22,000 per year, the report stated.
Staff have recommended that a 4-foot tall, 20-foot wide 4.0 mm resolution LED sign replace the banners, which may lead to increased safety, increased availability for messaging and less expense for community groups who desire messaging, according to the report. The city also would be able to quickly display emergency notices, such as Amber Alerts and street closures, the report stated.
The city would regain the cost of the electronic signs in about seven years with the reduced labor cost and in less time if the city continues to charge an administrative fee per sign, according to the report.
Alderman Scott Levin, chairman of the Public Affairs and Safety Committee, presented the committee's report at the meeting and said he had heard from other aldermen that they had concerns about whether it would change the nature of the community and whether it was needed, considering the prevalence of social media.
In response, he said the electronic sign is not a "bright and glaring sign," and more people are likely to see the sign than the city's social media channels.
Alderman Bob Dunn, another member of the committee, had been absent from the Oct. 9 meeting, and he expressed his support for the report at the City Council meeting.
"This would be a vast improvement over the current situation. I get the charmingness of the fabric banner hanging there. It is a bit old school, but the technology is such with these signs that it's an attractive-looking display, gives us more flexibility and more visibility of what's on there," Dunn said. "I know trying to drive down that underpass and read what's on there, sometimes it's quite difficult unless you're going 2 miles per hour, and then you'll be honked at vehemently."
Alderwomen Noel Talluto, Tina Park and Dannee Polomsky voted against the report.
Talluto challenged the "underlying assumption" that the city needs signage at the bridge and said community organizations have many alternative outlets for communications such as social media, the city's communications manager and local groups that support various community organizations. She said the solution to the presented problem is just not to have either type of signage.
"The benefit of communicating in this location weighed against the reduction in character and having any other kind of safety risks – I just don't think that it makes sense in my estimation of weighing those two things," Talluto said.
Polomsky said she does not think an electronic sign would match the character of the area surrounding the bridge.
"I don't think that having an electronic sign in an area where we just invested some significant funding for the beautification of the area – I don't think the electronic sign would add to it, so I do not support it," Polomsky said.