Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 26, 2011

Champaign Council Considering “Smart” Parking Meters

The city of Champaign is looking to give some motorists another option for those who don't have change for the parking meter.

City council members Tuesday will be asked to give preliminary approval for a test run of 'smart meters' downtown. The first 37 of them, which accept debit and credit cards, would be installed in the 100 block of North Walnut Street, and on Chester Street between Neil and Market Streets.

Patti Anderson is a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department. She says the meters should boost city revenue, but also cut down on parking tickets.

"You can expect to see parking violations decrease because people are more inclined, with the credit card, to put in the full amount for the time limit," said Anderson. "And so, that way you need more revenue generated because they put more money in in the first place, but you do see a decrease in parking fines."

The city is planning a six-month trial for the first meters to see how colder weather affects them. Champaign may then purchase those meters, install about 30 more north of the trial area, and 100 additional ones in the easternmost portion of Campustown.

The city council meets in a study session starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. But even if they're finalized next week, city staff says it could be a while before the meters are actually in place, since Champaign first has to set up a schedule with a vendor for installing them.

The University of Illinois and city of Urbana are also exploring the use of smart meters.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 25, 2011

Authorities Confirm Victims’ Names in Plane Crash

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

The three victims of a fiery plane crash in Rantoul have been identified.

Fifty-six-year-old Jon Buerkett, his wife, 47-year-old Dana Buerkett, and their daughter, 19-year-old Morgan Buerkett, all of Champaign, were killed Sunday when the single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Rantoul Airport.

A preliminary autopsy conducted late Monday by Champaign County Coroner Duane Northup indicates all three family members died from blunt force trauma.

Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber says severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Tom Fiedler, a friend of Jon Buerkett, said Monday they were co-owners of Melody Music in Champaign, a coin-operated music and equipment company. Dana Buerkett owned her own marketing business and Morgan Buerkett was a University of Chicago student.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 25, 2011

Gov. Daniels Seeks Disaster Status for Vermillion, Wayne Counties

Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.

If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.

The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.

Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 25, 2011

Planes Still Fly, But FAA Shutdown Blocks Airport Construction Projects

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Thousands of contractors have been ordered to stop work on airport construction projects. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers continue to disagree over legislation needed to put those workers back to work.

The Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority expired Friday night - after the House and Senate couldn't agree on a bill to extend it.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he tried to pass a temporary version of the bill - but Republicans objected.

"This political brinkmanship may be somebody's idea of a victory," Durbin said. "It's my idea of a defeat for workers across America and for the maintenance and the construction of new airport facilities."

But Illinois Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren said his chamber is being proactive - passing a plan that Senate Democrats don't support.

"What they're doing is they're just kicking the can down the road another couple months each time that this happens," Hultgren said.

The modernization program at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is not expected to be affected by the work stoppage yet. But according to the FAA, the $1.5 million re-paving of a parking lot there will not happen until Congress reaches an agreement.

Meanwhile, the manager of Champaign-Urbana's Willard Airport said a construction project slated to start this fall at his airport could be affected if the partial shutdown at the FAA continues.

Willard manager Rick Wanzek said the project to widen part of an airport taxiway is to be bid in August.

"If they're not back to operating, and if they haven't released funds for a grant, then that would delay the project," he said. "That would be a significant impact that - we wouldn't get a project done this year that we were hoping to get done."

But Wanzek said air traffic controllers are exempt from the shutdown at the FAA, which means flights can continue as usual. An FAA spokesman said investigators are still on the job --- including those taking part in the investigation of Sunday's fatal crash of a single-engine plane at the Rantoul Airport.

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching, File)

Categories: Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 24, 2011

Three Dead in Small Plane Crash in Rantoul

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The names of three people who died in a fiery plane crash Sunday in central Illinois have been released.

Rantoul police have not released the names of the people on the plane, but multiple news reports cite a family member who identified the victims as Champaign residents Jon Buerkett, 56; his wife, Dana Buerkett, 47; and their daughter, Morgan Buerkett, 19.

According to an official with the Federal Aviation Administration, the single-engine Piper PA 46 airplane went down shortly after takeoff at the Rantoul Airport about 125 miles southwest of Chicago. Agency spokesman Roland Herwig said federal authorities were notified of the crash before 10 a.m. Sunday, and that the plane was destroyed by fire.

Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Autopsies are scheduled Monday, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.

Categories: Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 22, 2011

Some Champaign Neighborhoods Leave Pedestrians Out in the Street

(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

The city of Champaign came up with a plan 25 years ago to repair deteriorating sidewalks.

Since then, the city has fixed some old ones and developers have built new sidewalks in new subdivisions.

But in some of the older areas in town - many of which are home to low-income residents - the city never had a plan to install sidewalks and has never done so.

In fact, despite the city's goal of being a "walking community," about one-fourth of its streets lack sidewalks, according to planning documents.

Champaign's 2011 comprehensive plan states that development should be "designed to promote street life and encourage walking with interconnected sidewalks, trails and streets." Sidewalks also provide a safe way for children to walk to school, for those who use public transit to get to their bus stops and even for residents to walk their dogs, city officials say.

"Sidewalks are an important element in promoting walkability and recreation," Lacey Rains Lowe, a Champaign city planner, said in an email interview.

Leslie Kimble lives in Dobbins Downs, one of the older neighborhoods in town without a complete sidewalk system. The subdivision, located just north of Interstate 74, was originally developed outside Champaign's limits, but a portion of the neighborhood has since been annexed into the city.

It is one of the lower-income areas in town, a factor Kimble thinks adds to the neighborhood's need for sidewalks.

"Because our neighborhood is low-income, there are many people without cars," Kimble said. "Sidewalks in our neighborhood, especially leading along Anthony Drive to all the stores and restaurants, would be very helpful, not to mention much more safe."

City documents show that planners are aware of the problem.

"Some streets (in Dobbins Downs) have sidewalks while others do not, resulting in a disjointed system," according to the city's comprehensive plan. This limits residents' access to nearby employers and the restaurants and stores on North Prospect Avenue.

Sidewalks not required until 1970s

The condition of a neighborhood's sidewalk system is directly related to planning regulations at the time the neighborhood was developed, according to city documents and planning officials

Lynn Dearborn, a University of Illinois professor of urban and regional planning, said the fact that many of the neighborhoods without sidewalks are lower income is most likely a coincidence.

"Whether a neighborhood in the city has a sidewalk system is largely based upon when it was developed and what state policy was," Dearborn said. "I've noticed parts of the city that are more well-to-do but still are lacking sidewalks in some areas."

Prior to the early 1970s, Champaign, like Urbana and many other cities, did not require sidewalks in residential areas. That meant neighborhoods developed during the 1950s and 1960s never had any installed. Since then, it has been mandatory for all new developments - residential, commercial and industrial - to have sidewalks installed along their streets.

But constructing sidewalks in older neighborhoods is complicated and expensive due to existing infrastructure and the need to negotiate right-of-way agreements with property owners, according to planning documents.

"When a neighborhood is designed without key urban design elements ... it is much, much harder and more costly to locate and build those things after the fact," Rains Lowe, the city planner, said.

Champaign's ongoing financial woes make it unlikely that this situation will change in the foreseeable future. Adopted in 2008, Champaign's transportation master plan says that "adding sidewalks on the miles and miles of arterials, collectors and local streets is not financially possible in existing neighborhoods."

Meanwhile, the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 reduced some funding for repairing aging sidewalks.

Sidewalks increase by 32 percent

The mileage of sidewalks throughout the city has increased by 32 percent in five years, from about 267 miles of sidewalks in 2005 to 352 miles in 2010, according to city documents. This is a result of new development, annexation and a handful of projects that built new sidewalks in existing areas of the city.

Before retiring in May, Gup Kramer, former concrete supervisor for the Champaign Public Works Department, said that creating new sidewalks is not the city's main priority. For the past 25 years, the plan has been to fix up sidewalks that have deteriorated over time but not install more in most existing neighborhoods.

As part of the city's sidewalk rehabilitation program, enacted in 1985, Public Works budgets about $400,000 for sidewalk repairs each year. The department's Engineering Division also provides about $200,000 annually for repairs through its neighborhood infrastructure repair program.

But cuts to the Public Works budget this year will slow the pace of sidewalk repairs.

Sidewalks lacking in higher income areas too

Gabe Lewis, a transportation planner with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, has studied pedestrian issues extensively through his work on the Champaign-Urbana Safe Routes to School Project.

The project's goals include educating the public about the safest ways for pedestrians and bikers to get to school and identifying problems, such as a lack of sidewalks, that keep kids from walking and biking.

While some lower-income schools lack sidewalks in the surrounding area, the problem is not exclusive to these neighborhoods, Lewis said.

For example, the lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood south of Kirby Avenue and east of Prospect Avenue is a major barrier that prevents students from walking to Bottenfield Elementary School, according to the Safe Routes to School report. Bottenfield, 1801 S. Prospect Ave., is located in a higher-income neighborhood and has a smaller percentage of low-income students than the Champaign school district as a whole.

The Safe Routes to School Project has worked with the city of Champaign to try to obtain funding to fill in gaps in sidewalk systems near schools.

Late last year, the city and the Regional Planning Commission applied for a grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation that would pay for improvements near Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., where about 70 percent of students come from low-income families. Among the proposed upgrades is a new section of sidewalk on Neil Street between Edgebrook Drive and Kenyon Road.

Since 2001, Champaign has financed projects to fill gaps in the existing sidewalk system, focusing its attention on areas near schools and places where safety problems exist or where gaps are less than one block long. The city spent about $155,000 on such projects last year and has budgeted about $95,000 every other year for the next 10 years for additional projects.

The city also has a goal of constructing sidewalks along major roadways that currently do not have them, but there is a $2 million backlog for such projects, according city documents.

Residents who want sidewalks in their neighborhood have the option of requesting that they be built and splitting the cost with the city. But, according city documents, this program has never been used.

Urbana, which also has several older neighborhoods without sidewalks, offers a similar cost-sharing program. But Bill Gray, Urbana's Public Works director, said he hasn't seen it used in his 20 years with the city.

"People are usually resigned to the lack of sidewalks in these residential areas, or they're not willing to share in the cost (of building them)," he said.

Jeff Marino, a Champaign city planner, said some residents don't want sidewalks built in their neighborhoods because they don't want to give up a portion of their yard for a public right-of-way.

Garden Hills gets new sidewalks

But in some neighborhoods, residents welcome new sidewalks.

The Garden Hills subdivision just south of I-74 is another neighborhood that never had sidewalks. Built during the 1950s and 1960s, the neighborhood is home to some of the city's poorest residents.

Amy Revilla, president of the United Garden Hills Neighborhood Association, said that the city has taken steps toward installing more walkways in her neighborhood.

"Sidewalks have always been a concern of ours, mostly on Paula Drive, where there is a lot of foot traffic," Revilla said. "The city of Champaign has done a great job in doing what they can, but funding is always an issue."

Using about $200,000 in federal stimulus funds, the city built two blocks of new sidewalks along Paula Drive last year and made improvements to sidewalk ramps near Garden Hills Elementary School. The city plans to build another block of sidewalks along Paula later this year, Chris Sokolowski, a Champaign civil engineer, said in an email.

Need for those with disabilities

One purpose of sidewalks that may be overlooked by many is accessibility for people with disabilities.

Kramer, the former concrete supervisor, said the city was ahead of its time when it came to accessible infrastructure for the disabled. In 1987, Champaign passed a policy that required the installation of sidewalk access ramps whenever curbs or sidewalks were replaced.

Five years later, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required ramps to be installed throughout the country. Since the act was put in place, ramps have not been installed in neighborhoods that never had sidewalks to begin with.

Sokolowski said that the recent struggles of the economy and reductions in revenue have caused the city to cut back on its spending on capital-improvement projects and focus primarily on maintaining existing infrastructure.

The current financial climate makes it a challenge to keep up with needed repairs. Before his retirement in May, Kramer's sidewalk-repair crew was cut from eight workers to seven.

"Champaign is a leader in all infrastructure," Kramer said. "We've been very aggressive. But a city is like a homeowner: if you have money, then you can make the repairs. I expect there to be less money in the future, and less repairs.

(Photo by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

Categories: Economics, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2011

University of Illinois Votes to End Aviation Program

University of Illinois Votes to End Aviation Program

The University of Illinois will end its Institute of Aviation.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2011

Impact of American Airlines’ Purchase on Boeing

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines is claiming to have made the largest purchase on Wednesday of airplanes in aviation history, but it is raising some questions over how the purchase will affect American's relationship with the Chicago-based Boeing company.

American has had an almost exclusive relationship buying planes from Boeing, or companies Boeing bought out, for years. But that all changed when American announced today that it's buying 200 new planes from Boeing and 260 planes from Boeing's rival, Airbus.

"I think it's hurtful to Boeing," said Aaron Gellman, who follows the airline industry at Northwestern University.

He said the higher ups at Boeing should be raising questions about how Airbus struck such a lucrative deal with American Airlines.

But Florida-based aviation consultant Stuart Klaskin said the order does not mean there is a broken relationship between American and Boeing.

"There's no way they can say they're disappointed," Klaskin said. "They just sold 200 airplanes to American Airlines. I mean, God. It's a massive - by any other standard it's a massive order."

Klaskin said if anything, American caught up with other airline companies by diversifying its fleet of planes so as to not have all its eggs in the Boeing basket.

Meanwhile, Joe Schwieterman, who follows the aviation industry at Chicago's DePaul University, said, "This is really making a statement that they're going to have an equal mix of Airbus and Boeing and I think it's a bit of a wake up call for Boeing, as well, that they shouldn't count on the majority of orders from the big guys here in the U.S."

Schwieterman said there is no need for Boeing to panic. Buying 200 planes is still a huge order and it should give Boeing confidence to make further improvements to its aircraft.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2011

UI Flight Program Could Land at Parkland College

The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees is poised to vote Thursday on ending its long-running flight training program, but there is a chance the Institute of Aviation may have a new home.

The Urbana campus has provided flight training since the mid-1940's. Parkland College President Tom Ramage said he has been in talks with U of I officials about incorporating the aviation program into his school's curriculum. He said he is interested in keeping the institute alive, even if it is on a smaller scale.

"A private pilot licensure as well as commercial pilot licensure can happen without a degree or it can happen with a degree," he said. "We could go as far as the associate's degree, and partner as we do with many other programs with another university to do that degree competition."

Ramage said the prospect of Parkland adopting the flight program is largely dependent on what happens in the days ahead. He noted that discussions with the U of I about the institute have just started.

"I would imagine if the (University of Illinois) decides not to come and have a discussion with Parkland that they have good reason for it," Ramage said. "I don't know that I would beat down the door trying to figure out why."

On his end, Ramage said he would have to review the cost of maintaining the flight program, and the prospect of post-graduate jobs for aviation students.

A panel of U of I administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February to get rid of the Institute of Aviation as part of a series of cost-cutting measures. If that recommendation goes through with the vote by the Board of Trustees, then the flight program would end by 2014.

Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

U of Trustees Will Vote to Close Aviation Next Week

University of Illinois Interim Chancellor Robert Easter confirms the university's Board of Trustees will vote next week during a meeting in Chicago to close its Institute of Aviation.

A panel of administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February as part of a series of cost-cutting measures known as "Stewarding Excellence." But members of the Institute's Alumni Advisory Board say the trustees are ignoring a vote by the U of I's Faculty Senate to keep the facility open. Even though the proposal to close the Institute failed by three votes, Easter calls that tally 'essentially a tie".

"We have other bodies, the Stewarding Excellence process, the Faculty Committee on courses and curriculum, they have supported the decision," he said. "We had to arrive at some decision, so we decided to move it forward."

Easter notes that the Institute's degree program was only established in the late 90's, while the U of I has been teaching people to fly since the 1940's. Easter said the U of I still wants to find a way to offer pilot training, and it is working with a local community college to provide those courses. He would not say whether that school is Parkland College. Easter also said the closure date for Aviation would be 'several years' away.

"We have a very real obligation and commitment to continue to operate the educational program until the students have had a reasonable opportunity to complete their degrees." he said.

Karen Koenig with the Institute's alumni panel said there has been an effort to merge the Institute with another unnamed college. But Easter said any progress at a meeting between the two parties scheduled for Wednesday will likely be too late to change the outcome of the Board of Trustees vote next week.

Koenig said the powers that be are ignoring the actions of others, and not giving Aviation enough time to respond, since the Institute's alumni panel only learned of administrators' plans on Tuesday.

"The original proposal made by (Easter) to close the institute is the one being sent to the trustees, and that totally circumnavigates the votes that were made by the University Senate, the Student Senate, the Faculty-Student Senate, and the Educational Policy Committee," Koenig said. "Those are not being considered."

Dana Dann-Messier is President of Koening's advisory group. He says the university's efforts to shut down aviation started in 2005, when instructor and director positions started becoming vacant and weren't refilled. Dann-Messier says those actions are hurting the business.

"It's apocolyptic," he said. "Those are the words the industry is using for the pilot shortage on the horizon. And for the administration to be engaging in these kinds of games when the future of air transportation is at stake, and we can be a leader in that future, it's mind boggling. That's all I can say."

Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting.


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