Residents in the 29th Ward recently voted to put 60 percent of the aldermanic menu funds into street resurfacing, leaving enough money for all but one community improvement project on the ballot.

Every year, every alderman gets $1.4 million in city funds to spend on infrastructure-related projects. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th)  has been among a handful of aldermen and the only West Side alderman, to give his constituents a say in the spending through the participatory budgeting process. 

As it has been the case in the past year, 29th Ward residents ages 14 and up could vote on what portion of the money they wanted to spend on street resurfacing and how to spend the remaining amount.

According to the ballot results released on Feb. 8 in Taliaferro’s official email newsletter, the only project to lose out was the project to add neighborhood identification signs in the Galewood portion of North Avenue. 

And Columbus Park Fieldhouse, 500 S. Central Ave.; a new outdoor fitness course will be built at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St.; several community gardens will get improvements, and bike lanes will be added on the portions of Austin Boulevard and Roosevelt Road. 

Because of the pandemic, this marked the first time the vote took place entirely online. As of Friday afternoon, it was not clear how many residents ended up voting or how many votes each project got. Taliaferro’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline. 

At $168,000, the proposal to install metal neighborhood identification markers on the Galewood side of North Ave., between Austin Boulevard and Rutherford Avenue, was the most expensive project on the ballot. 

Because North Avenue is a state highway, any change to the street infrastructure would need to be approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation.  

While some North Avenue participatory budgeting projects have gotten approved in the past, the Illinois Department of Transportation vetoed last year’s project to add a pedestrian island and pedestrian crossing bump-outs on the portion of North Avenue, midway between Natchez and Nagle avenues.  

In a Facebook post announcing the results, Judith Alexander, head of North Avenue District Inc., simply commented, “Oh, well, there’s always next year.” 

The $400,000 left over after the streetscaping will be enough to cover all of the remaining projects, with $55,000 to spare. The most expensive project on that list is a $150,000 bike lanes project. Another $60,000 will go toward building the Austin Town Hall fitness course. The Columbus Park and Sayer murals will cost $60,000 and $25,000, respectively. Both murals would be painted by artists contracted by the city with input from the local youth.

 In addition, $20,000 will go toward a community garden in Columbus Park, as well as the Harambee Community Garden at 455 N. Waller Ave.; and $30,000 would go toward speed bumps and stop signs throughout the ward. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...