Illinois Public Media News
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)
A Champaign County Board member said he expects the first meeting soon of a board subcommittee assigned with looking at the Olympian Drive extension project.
The panel was put together by Chair Pius Weibel after county board members failed to reach consensus on a project, or different options of that plan. Republican Alan Nudo said he and many of his colleagues were embarrassed by how the board looked after the lengthy discussion at last Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting. The new panel is expected to meet with Urbana and Champaign officials in the next few days.
Meanwhile, Urbana Chief of Staff Mike Monson said the immediate goal will be to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and then carrying it out to US 45. Nudo said the new subcommittee has the ability to get the Olympian project approved to Lincoln, which he said he has backed all along. However, Nudo added that further road development should head west instead of east.
"All Republicans were taking a look at it very hard to see if it was really necessary financially, if we could afford it, and what (how much money) the feds were going to put in there," said Nudo. "We stayed together on that, but personally I've always felt that Lincoln is the prudent way to go, and quite frankly, I think the next step is to look at Duncan (Duncan Avenue in West Champaign). Nudo Duncan is really the more opportune area to connect before 45, but that's, again, a whole other issue."
Monson said most funding for extending Lincoln to Olympian is in place, and would cost roughly $20-million, but Nudo said he expects the project to run at least $10-million, when considering amenities like larger medians and bike paths. The project would rely on a mix of state, federal, and local matching funds. Monson said large trucks cannot drive on the northernmost part of Lincoln, which he described a narrow, winding road meant only for cars. He said that will require the Champaign County Board to sign off on this first phase of the plan for Olympian, and to determine what amenities the public wants.
"If you do a side path, that's going to cost extra," said Monson. "Wetlands, landscaping, those things can all add to the cost - or not. Actually the roundabout that we're talking about would save a half-million dollars. Those decisions haven't been made, so an exact cost isn't known."
The subcommittee also includes Republican Greg Knott, and Democrat Ralph Langenheim. A fifth member will be chosen soon. That panel is expected to have a concrete recommendation for the county board to vote on by November.
The Curtis Road - I-57 Interchange opened more than two years ago, and now motorists can use it to travel to and from Champaign-Urbana.
Louis Braghini has been the project engineer for the city of Champaign, which acted as the lead agent this phase of the Curtis Road improvements. He said a former two-lane oil-and-chip pavement is now a four-lane highway, with concrete cross-sections, street lights, traffic signals at the Prospect and Mattis Avenue intersections, plus landscaping.
Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helten said the route will bring new traffic to businesses in his town, both the existing ones along Route 45, and the ones he expects to locate along the new improved Curtis Road.
"I think the numbers will jump up dramatically over the next few weeks," said Helten. "And those businesses, future businesses, are going to see an incredible opportunity for their businesses to thrive."
Development right around the Curtis Road interchange will be in the city of Champaign. The first development is to be anchored by a new Christie Clinic. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said the Research Park and sporting events at the University of Illinois campus will also benefit.
The next phase of Curtis Road improvements is set to continue east, past Route 45, including a viaduct at the Canadian National tracks. The village of Savoy will take the lead for that project, but Helten said that project does not yet have funding or a scheduled start date.
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District is gearing up to replace half of its buses with hybrid models in the next couple of years.
The 40-foot diesel -electric vehicles are each priced at around $570 thousand dollars. Many of the existing gas burning vehicles are nearly 20 years old.
MTD Assistant Director Tom Costello said the typical life of a bus is 12 years, but that the mass transit district tries to keep its vehicles around for at least 15 years.
"Once you get to 15 years, your maintenance costs begin to go up exponentially," said Costello. "So, if we're going to replace them, we're going to try to replace them with vehicles that use less fuel and burn more cleanly."
Costello said the hybrids do not require nearly as much maintenance work as the gas-burning vehicles. The mass transit district first introduced hybrid buses in 2009. Spokeswoman Jan Kijowski said the long-term plan is to replace every one of its vehicles with hybrids.
Each bus will also include special filters that are designed to cut down on carbon emissions. Both the buses and filters will be supported through a combination of local, state, and national grants.
Another series of roundtable discussions on a proposed extension of Olympian Drive in Champaign County spent a lot of time on the design phase.
Engineers in Wednesday's public hearing in Urbana briefly ran through cost options of what's been identified as the first two phases through prior roundtables. Those are extending Olympian at Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and extending North Lincoln at Saline Court to Olympian. The full project calls for extending Olympian to US 45. The 60 people attending Wednesday night split up into roundtables on items like bike paths, wide medians, and installing roundabouts. But at least one elected official contends engineers have bigger issues to contend with first.
Champaign County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty calls the meeting a good effort, but says this issue is much more complicated. "There are going to be sticky issues regarding the sweeping 'S' up to connect Lincoln to Olympian," said McGinty. "Focusing on that to get the public behind that and the landowners behind that I think would be important. But, you know these are issues that would need to be addressed at some point. It feels like this is step 52 that we are taking now when we really need to be addressing step 1, 2, and 3."
McGinty says last night's forum also should have included talk on property acquisition, since it's been discussed among Urbana city leaders. County Board Republican Alan Nudo says he was impressed with the list of cost options, but says engineers need to do a feasibility study on the traffic in that area before deciding on a two or four lane road. Urbana City Council member Brandon Bowersox says he's glad stakeholders got to have a say. "There were no easy clear-cut answers, there were really a split of feelings, but at least it was good for me to see that everyone had a chance to come weigh in on that," said Bowersox. "That information will all be public, and all be available to people as we go ahead."
A longtime supporter of roundabouts, Urbana Mayor Prussing says she was happy to see support for traffic calming devices that cut down on accidents and save the cost installing traffic signals. Engineer Matt Heyen says Illinois' Department of Transportation has confirmed that part of $5-million in Illinois 'Jobs Now' funds can be used to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue. The next public meeting on the project is expected this fall.
A US transportation administrator says research being done at the University of Illinois to boost innovations like high-speed rail may be one of the country's best kept secrets.
Peter Appel concluded a visit to campus with a tour of the ATREL facility in Rantoul. The site conducts various tests to prepare areas like Central Illinois for high-speed rail, and looks at different mixes of concrete and soil to see how they'll handle the weight of newer airplanes on runways. The facility testing equipment can even detect sinkholes in the earth's surface. Appel says railway engineering has been disappearing from a lot of institutions, calling the U of I an exception.
"The University of Illinois is advancing railway engineering more than any university in the nation," said Appel, who says the Obama administration's $8-billion investment in high speed rail includes replacing wood railroad ties with concrete. "As you pick the speeds up from 70 miles an hour to 80 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour, you need a lot more precision in the rail operations. Using, for example, concrete ties, helps drive that higher precision and ability for faster speeds. So that's the kind of developments that they're advancing here."
Appel says the U of I recognizes its role in advancing technology in high-speed rail, and that faculty in Urbana have been training professors elsewhere to teach courses in that area.
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