Illinois Public Media News
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
UPDATE: The Champaign City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement on the Olympian Drive study Tuesday night, on a 6 to 2 vote.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Urbana City Council chamber Monday night as the Urbana City Council voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement on a design engineering study on the Olympian Drive extension.
Council members listened to input from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the road would destroy farmland, and contribute to urban sprawl. Supporters say it would spur economic development. One of the latter was Vice President Steve Brewer of the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. He says unemployed building and construction workers need the jobs that building Olympian Drive would provide. And Brewer siad the community needs the Olympian Drive extension in order to grow.
"I believe that the only conscionable thing to do is to plan for future generations, and this road does that", said Brewer.
Monday night's vote approves the use of a 5-million dollar state grant to pay for the design engineering study, and also land acquisition for Olympian Drive. But land acquisition will be delayed, because it would need the cooperation of the Champaign County Board, which has delayed a vote on the issue until next year. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city of Urbana will focus on the design engineering study first.
Urbana will also do its own study on improvements to North Lincoln Avenue in connection with the Olympian Drive extension --- plus a risk analysis on both the North Lincoln and Olympian Drive projects. Supporters of Olympian Drive say the road extension needs an upgraded North Lincoln Avenue to link to I-74. Opponents agree --- they say with North Lincoln improved for heavy traffic, Olympian Drive wouldn't need to go all the way out to Route 45. But North Lincoln Avenue isn't mentioned in the intergovernmental agreements to study Olympian Drive. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana will have to study North Lincoln on its own.
"North Lincoln Avenue is something that Urbana needs to do", says Prussing, "and I think it going to be more trouble than it's worth to try to include it in the $5 million study, because we'd have to get our partners to agree to it. I think this is really an Urbana study.
The Urbana City Council will look at ways to study North Lincoln Avenue --- and also do a risk analysis of the Olympian Drive project --- later in the spring. Mayor Prussing says she hopes the state-funded Olympian Drive study can start later this year.
The Urbana and Champaign City Councils vote this week on a three-party intergovernmental agreement to begin design engineering work on the extension of Olympian Drive along the north edge of the two cities But the Champaign County Board --- which is also a party to the agreement --- will not be
Chairman Pius Weibel says a county board vote on Olympian Drive is unlikely this year, because of opposition on the board, especially among Republicans. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she hopes to change some county board minds --- especially now that the design engineering study will include proposed upgrades for North Lincoln Avenue connecting Olympian Drive to I-74.
"I know that the Republicans had said they weren't going to support it" says Prussing, "but I know one Republican that said he would support it with Lincoln Avenue. So you never know. I just think it's an education process."
County Board Republican Greg Knott says the Lincoln Avenue part is important --- but he wants to be sure there's enough money on hand. Local officials have not yet secured all the money they need to finance the Olympian Drive extension. Knott says he wonders if the state and federal governments can come through on the money they've promised so far.
"Let's be honest", says Knott. "State's broke, the Feds are broke. We don't have anywhere close to getting this money. Show me the money, and then I might be interested in taking a vote.."
Prussing says they do have the state money for the design engineering part of the Olympian Drive project --- if they act this month. She says county board approval isn't needed right now. But it will be, when it comes time to buy up land along the highway extension route.
The State of Illinois is out with an ambitious long range plan for road construction, even amid uncertainty over future funding.
The state wants to spend $5 billion on roads and bridges over the next year. That's nearly double what was outlined in recent plans.
The projects range from new roads, to repairs and efforts to ease traffic congestion.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan says it will also put people to work.
"When people work, those paychecks go into local banks and it helps those local economies", says Carrigan. "In turn, those local economies help the state economy."
Illinois expects to use a mix of funding for the projects, much of it from the federal government this year. Beyond that, the state would also rely on proceeds from the new video gambling law. But many communities don't want to participate, and that could greatly reduce the amount of money available for infrastructure. Governor Pat Quinn says he's not worried.
"We have ample money in the first several years of our plan here to pay for everything", says Quinn. "I think we can carry forward whatever the case may be."
The Governor calls the road plan "fair", all regions of Illinois will have projects funded.
The Urbana City Council gave its unanimous endorsement Monday night to intergovernmental agreements that would launch the design engineering phase of the Olympian Road extension. If finalized next week, Urbana would be one step closer to using 5 million dollars in state funds to pay for the design work.
The vote came after Urbana council members heard from dozens of local residents. Some, including business and government leaders, say the extension would help spur commercial development on Urbana's north side, providing tax revenue and jobs. But a majority of speakers said they feared the road would encourage urban sprawl at the expense of farmland. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city will consider their concerns during a public engagement process that will accompany the design engineering process.
"We will listen to what everybody has to say and we will redesign the plan as necessary", says Prussing. "But we are concerned that in order to have parks, in order to have schools, in order to have a decent way of life, you do have to have a healthy tax base."
But William Cope, one of the organizers of Olympian Drive opponents says lack of support on the Champaign County Board could stop the project from getting beyond the planning phase.
"You know, the project won't happen, without the county board's involvement and support", says Cope. "And therefore, they're against it at the moment. It's unlikely it will happen, so it could well be $5 million just wasted."
The $ 5 million is state funding that's been guaranteed for this phase of work on Olympian Drive. Part of it would pay for acquisition of land for the road --- which would need Champaign County Board approval. But county board support for Olympian Drive has been so weak that a vote on the issue has been delayed until next year.
Urbana Council members amended their Olympian Drive resolution to add in design work on North Lincoln Avenue. Those improvements would allow truck traffic between Olympian Drive and I-74. While North Lincoln is considered crucial to Olympian Drive's success, it's not actually part of the 27 million dollar project.
A rural mass transit system serving Vermilion County hopes to be providing its service to some rural Champaign county cities by the fall.
The Champaign County Board's committee of the whole approved the plan from CRIS Rural Transit this week. The buses in Vermilion County have run based on appointment for 25 years, and are open to anyone on weekdays. CRIS Rural Transit is a branch of the CRIS Healthy Aging Center. CEO Amy Marchand says she came before the Champaign County Board based on responses to surveys and her appearances at village meetings. She says many have come to rely on their buses each day.
"Some people use it to go to dialysis treatment two or three times a week," says Marchand. "Some people use it to take classes at a college. Some people use it to just have regular doctor's appointments. There's a group from a senior high rise that go to Wal-Mart once a week to buy their groceries." The CRIS buses are partially funded through federal funds. Marchand also says a small percentage of local sales tax goes to downstate funding for mass transit, but it's currently distributed elsewhere since Champaign County doesn't provide the service.
County Board member Steve Moser opposes the plan, contending that more taxes, including property tax, would be needed to pay for the service. He also says CRIS buses would duplicate what's provided by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. But the agency's Darlene Kloeppel says it may let CRIS replace its Rural Rider program, which serves solely senior citizens, if it can help most of its clients. Kloeppel says there are other bus providers in rural Champaign County, but no one will be forced to end their service. "If people don't want to continue to provide service, or if they're able to do it more efficiently in another way, they certainly can do that as well. That's why this is a good thing, because it gives people options."
If the County Board approves the plan April 22nd, CRIS would apply for the service in July, and Illinois' Department of Transportation would have to approve the plan. The initial towns served would be Rantoul, Thomasboro, and Ludlow.
The debate over the Olympian Drive extension will continue at an Urbana City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting in three weeks. Council members have put off a decision on a state-funded design engineering study for the road. It would be just the latest phase in a long-standing project that Mayor Laurel Prussing says would bring economic development --- and jobs --- to the north edge of the city. But opponents like Bill and Virginia Ziegler (left) and Leslie Cooperbrand (right) argue it would do more harm than good. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the Olympian Drive debate.
A plan to move air traffic control radar services from Willard Airport to the Chicago area in five years isn't sitting well with the airport's manager.
Steve Wanzek says he's finding little justification for an FAA proposal to move those employees from Champaign to Elgin. The radar control workers monitor air traffic just outside of the visual range of the tower. Willard is getting an updated control tower... and Wanzek says plans are to leave those facilities out, since the radar employees can perform the same function elsewhere. Willard's radar facilities also serve air traffic in Danville and Decatur. But Wanzek says communicating with radar control in the suburbs means losing local knowledge of the region in the event of an emergency. "We get a pilot that's lost or whatever who might able to identify some kind of landmark," says Wanzek. "Whether it be an interection, or a sign, or something that the local controller might know something about because he lives here, and drives around here, and maybe he's driven by that sign or knows that intersection better than he would know if he was up in Elgin."
Wanzek also says losing those employees will hurt the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation, in which more than 250 students monitor the activites of both radar controllers and air traffic personnel on the ground. The FAA's change could impact 12 to 14 jobs. Agency spokesman Tony Molinaro says the agency continues to analyze the potential cost savings of those salaries, along with building Willard's new tower without a radar room. He also contends that only a handful of Willard employees handle multiple tasks. "The tower controllers would be sending the planes out from the runways and the radar folks are splitting them up or vice versa," says Molinaro. "People are coming from different directions, the radar folks are putting them in line, and then handing them over to the tower folks. Most of those people would stay where they are, cause we still need all those folks to be in the tower itself."
Willard Airport Air Traffic Controller Carl Jensen says he may consider relocating, but wants an explanation from the FAA regarding potential cost savings. He says it makes no sense to give some Willard employees a cost of living increase to do the same job from the Chicago area. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is also opposed to the plan.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
The debate over extending Olympian Drive moved to the Champaign City Council chamber last (Tuesday) night. Council members gave their preliminary endorsement for an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana and Champaign County to complete the 27-millon dollar extension.
Council members also heard comments from landowners in the area of the extension who oppose the project. They say that the road --- and the development it would attract --- would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality farmland. They found an ally in Councilwoman Marcy Dodds, who cast the lone "no" vote Tuesday night.
"Farmland is an amenity, not an obstacle," Dodds said before the vote. "It's sustainable economically, and it speaks to our quality of life. We need to stop looking at concrete like it's the last word in economics."
But John Dimit of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation told the council that the impact of development on farmers would not be as bad as they feared.
"We all know 1600 acres --- that's been the touted amount that this land --- would open up for urban development. That's not going to happen overnight," Dimit said. "It's not going to happen at all if the road's not developed. But it'll happen gradually if the road is out there. So, many of the farms out there, I think will be able to continue in agricultural interests.
Backers of the Olympian Drive extension say it would provide a needed route between I-57 on the west side of Champaign-Urbana, and US 45 to the east. The project depends on a mix of state, local and federal funding. The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the intergovernmental agreement on March 16. Urbana and the Champaign County Board will also vote on the proposal this spring.
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