Illinois Public Media News
Fluctuating temperatures mean more potholes in city streets.
Champaign's public works department says about 950 of them have turned up in just the last two weeks, since lower temperatures and moisture have preceded freezing conditions. Administrative Services Manager Stacy Rachel said warmer air then creates air pockets within pavement, forming potholes.
Rachel added that public works is keeping up with the higher number of potholes well, responding within two business days of public complaints. Rachel said crews use a different material for filling in potholes this time of year, a 'cold mix' that works well in frigid temperatures, but she said there is another limitation this time of year.
"The problem with this time of year as well is these are the same people and the same equipment that are needed when we have a snow event," Rachel said. "They have to stop repairing potholes and also go out and assist with snowplowing activities."
Rachel said the increase in potholes this season has a lot to do with unusually cold weather and heavy snowfall. Anyone discovering a pothole in Champaign is encouraged to call the city's operations division at 403-4770. That number is staffed from 7 a.m. to 3-30 p.m. weekdays.
The owner of Decatur's only taxi service has shut the company down over what he calls the city's 'unethical businesses practices.'
AOK TNI Taxi owner Anthony Walker says the city's effort to investigate one of his driver, listed as a convicted sex offender on a state police registry, was the last straw. Walker said he claims she was only driving limousines, which is not illegal, but the city contends the employee was operating a taxi after being denied a taxi driver's license since she was convicted of a sex crime.
Walker said his complaints over city Finance Director Ron Neufield stretch back to last spring, and he plans to file a discrimination lawsuit as soon as Tuesday. Walker said the city renewed AOK's license as a transportation company on time last April, but he said Neufield tried to shut it down after saying the paperwork wasn't done properly. Walker said it is unlikely that the taxi company will start up again.
"I just don't forsee me diving back into that," Walker said. "I don't feel received by this community per se with my taxi service, and if I don't feel comfortable with my energy and my efforts and my money, I'll go to Bloomington, Springfield, where I have offices at, and work there."
Walker also provides the limousine and airport shuttle transportation, but shutting down the taxi service means about 20 drivers are out of a job. Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady said other problems with have surfaced, including lapses in insurance coverage that accompany cancellation notices.
"Every time we get a notice like that from the insurance company, of course we have to schedule a hearing," McCrady said. "As you can imagine, it's important that these taxis are properly insured. There has been situations where he's been in accidents and people have been injured. And we discovered the insurance had lapsed in that period of time."
McCrady said AOK TNI also fails to have cars inspected in a timely manner. McCrady said he hadn't heard of Walker's plans for a lawsuit, but says allegations of harassment are unfounded. With the taxi company down, the city will now offer van transportation to disabled residents who can't take city buses as part of the Decatur transit system's 'Operation Uplift' program.
Federal officials say the pilot of a small airplane is dead after a crash in central Illinois.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro says the single engine home-built aircraft took off from the Decatur Airport on Thursday afternoon and crashed 1.5 miles east of the airport.
Molinaro says the pilot was the only one on board. The pilot'sname was not released.
The plane was manufactured this year and is called a "Freebird Lite Sport.'' It was destroyed in the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.
Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.
Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.
"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."
Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.
American Eagle plans to add a flight route between Savoy's Willard Airport and Chicago's O'Hare Airport starting February 10.
Willard Airport manager Steve Wanzek said there has been a steady increase in Chicago-bound flights on American Eagle following Delta Air Lines' decision to leave Willard on August 31.
"We've long wanted additional service out of here," Wanzek said. "The airline itself saw that they were overbooked, and they didn't have enough seat capacity to handle the passengers that wanted to fly on their airline out of here."
The new flight would depart Chicago at 10:15 am and arrive at Willard at 11:05 am. It would then leave Willard at 11:30 am and arrive in Chicago at 12:20 pm.
Wanzek said that he has working with Sixel Consulting Group, an Oregon-based consulting firm, to find out if other airline carriers would be interested in coming to Willard. He also said he is trying to convince American Eagle to bring more air service to Willard Airport.
(Photo courtesy of caribb/flickr)
State grants are going to several projects in eastern Illinois that will make the way clearer for bicyclists and pedestrians. They range from nearly $626,000 to add bike lanes and walkway improvements to Urbana's Main Street to more than $1.24 million for a new bike path through Danville's Lincoln Park Historic District.
Another project getting funding is a proposed bike trail on a former railroad bed between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Steve Rugg heads the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which is working with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District on the so-called Kickapoo Trail. Rugg said the nearly $900,000 grant would help pay for land acquisition, but he said talks with the current owner of the rail bed have been deadlocked.
"We continue to work with CSX," said Rugg. "To this point we have not reached agreement, and it remains to be seen whether we'll actually get the acquisition completed."
The Illinois State Department of Transportation is giving out more than $6 million for the trails to help promote alternatives to driving. The village of Mahomet is also getting $1.18 million to help develop a pathway along Lake of the Woods Road, and the village of Rantoul will get to work on a bike path with a $782,000 grant.
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
Archer Daniels Midland's plan to buy a downtown building is one in a series of moves to spur economic growth in the area, according to a Decatur city official.
The agricultural processor has entered into an agreement with Reynolds Development to purchase the building adjacent to ADM's Global Technology Center on North Water Street. Moving 350 employees there from other parts of the city will boost the company's downtown workforce to about 700 people, about 17-percent of ADM's local workforce. The company will decide which employees move to the Reynolds building by the end of the year.
Decatur Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said ADM's agreement is moving forward as soon as possible, and helping to complete a longtime vision.
"These are folks who will shop in downtown stores, who will eat in downtown restaurants, and will hopefully visit downtown entertainment venues," Tyus said. "We think it's just one more step in our producing a downtown that will be a 24-hour living environment, which is what we've been working towards for some time now."
The new ADM facility will still house a Regions Bank branch currently in the building. Meanwhile, Reynolds Development is planning another downtown development for luring in restaurants, office, and retail development. That facility will also house an insurance company that Reynolds operates. To add to the development, the city of Decatur has been negotiating with the state to take over jurisdiction of US Route 51, and move it out of the downtown area. Tyus said that will allow for the re-routing of truck traffic.
On Thursday night, Decatur's city council will be asked to approve an agreement with ADM to allow downtown additional parking for employees that will be moving into that area.
Customers in two of the three zip codes covered by the Champaign Post Office may not notice when their service switches to a different postal station this weekend.
On Saturday, delivery to the 61821 zip code serving the west side of Champaign will move from the main station on Mattis Avenue to the Neil Street station downtown. Delivery of mail to the 61622 zip code in the rural outskirts of Champaign will change from the Neil Street station to Mattis Avenue.
Jason Stalter of the Champaign Post Office said the only difference postal customers should see is when they have to go to a post office about their mail.
The Neil Street post office will continue to handle mail to the 61820 zip code --- Champaign's busiest. Post Office box service and the Campustown postal station will not be affected by the switch.
Preliminary talks have started about building a new Central High School in Champaign.
About 50 residents attended Unit 4's first meeting to look at seven potential sites for replacing the more than 70-year old school. The district will use more than $3-million in facilities sales tax money to buy land for the school by next spring or fall, and a tax referendum for school construction will not go before voters until 2012 or 2013. If it passes on the district's first attempt, the new school would be built about two years later.
David Frye has a son in 7th grade, and said he hopes the work is done by time he graduates.
"That's six years from now. and I guess I've got my doubts at this point that he's going to benefit from this at all," Frye said. "I know there's always this question of, 'what's in it for me?' But what's in it for me is the chance to see my son and my son's friends get to graduate from a nice, modern high school. I'd love to see that."
Frye said his older son was involved in music and sports at Central, forcing him to walk to other school campuses for practice or games.
Unit 4 wants the new school to accommodate 1,500 or more students, with those practice areas on site, and nearby park space. Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson said he estimates a tax referendum would require $50 to $80 million. He said the seven sites are being studied not only with population growth in mind, but the transportation available for getting to them.
Nancy Hoetker is a Central High parent.
"There's a lot of us who currently drive a fair amount to get our children where they need to be here at Central," Hoetker said. "And we're going to be able to do that wherever we are, but there's another population that relies on the public transportation or proximity, and how are they going to be served by these locations."
Of the seven potential sites for the new school, four are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, including one along Olympian Drive. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Unit 4's web site will soon contain a place for sending in comments on those locations.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
(Graphic Courtesy of Champaign Unit 4 Schools)
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