Five days after the city of Hammond abruptly closed a heavily traveled state line crossing, drivers on both sides have yet to hear if the road will be reopened soon, if ever.
The Hammond streets department closed 136th Street, known locally as Boy Scout Road, without warning Friday morning. The move forced drivers coming east from Chicago, where the road is named 134th Street, to pull U-turns as they approached the state line.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. discussed the decision during his WJOB radio appearance that morning, after a caller asked if the street had been permanently closed. He conceded the road was popular with Illinois residents traveling to Hammond, but said the city would “take our time” to determine if keeping it open is worth repair and flood control costs.
“I know a lot of Illinois residents use that road to come in and use Hammond services … and businesses over there,” McDermott told host Kevin Smith. “The question is if it costs a million dollars (to fix), is it better off not being open at all?”
The sudden closure of 136th Street has caused frustration on both sides of the state line. In Chicago, the office of 10th Ward Alderwoman Susie Sadlowski Garza was left in the dark about the decision — McDermott confirmed on WJOB that he had not warned her of the closure beforehand.
“The mayor did not call us — we literally got nothing,” Ismael Cuevas, Sadlowski Garza’s chief of staff, told The Times. “We heard about (the closure) through our constituents.”
The alderwoman’s office has tried “multiple times” to connect with McDermott’s office about the city’s plans for the road, Cuevas said, but has not received a response as of Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, the office continues to receive complaints from angry constituents.
“It’s been nonstop,” Cuevas said. “Every day I get calls.”
In Hammond, the closure has diverted traffic away from the Hohman Avenue corridor tucked between the state line and the Indiana Toll Road. The effect is especially inconvenient in that part of the city because the nearest surface streets that cross the state line are at Gostlin Street, more than a mile to the south, and 112th Street, about four miles north.
Toula Skavdis, whose family owns the Auto Clinic & Muffler Shop on Hohman Avenue, said a long-term shutdown of 136th Street could hurt local businesses. She has not heard from Hammond officials if the closure will be temporary or permanent.
“I use it and our customers in Chicago use it all the time,” Skavdis told The Times.
A few hundred feet north, the Luke Oil station at 136th Street and Sheffield Avenue reported “a huge reduction” in customer traffic since the closure.
“Our business has gone way down,” station supervisor Serena Deason told The Times. “A lot of our customers come from Hegewisch and the (Harbor Point) trailer park, and they can’t get through.”
Neither the Hammond mayor’s office nor the streets department responded to multiple requests for comment by press time Wednesday.
During his WJOB appearance, McDermott said 136th Street causes problems that might outweigh the concerns of local residents and businesses that use it every day. The stretch of road east of the state line has become a magnet for illegal garbage dumping and a conduit for criminals coming into Hammond from Chicago, he said.
“The fact is, there are other ways into Illinois,” McDermott said, naming Gostlin Street and 112th Street as alternatives. “This (road) doesn’t need to be there, it’s just another way in.”