Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois is testing a new parking payment system that aims to end the need to run outside to feed the parking meter.
The Verrus Pay By Phone system allows motorists to pay for parking by credit card, using their cell phone. U of I Facilities and Services spokesman Andy Blacker says Verrus will even send out a phone message when parking time is about to run out --- to give motorists a chance to buy extended parking time.
"For a large number of people that get tied up in a meeting, or class runs over, they don't have to worry about going out to find a parking ticket," said Blakcer. "They can actually use their cell phone to add time to their meter."
The convenience costs a little extra. Blacker said the Verrus Park By Phone system charges a 35-cent "convenience fee", on top of the university's standard parking rates. He said the fee is per transaction, so motorists will pay the same additional fee no matter how long they park.
The U of I is testing the Verrus system this fall at about 200 metered parking lots at four parking lots scattered around the U of I Urbana campus --- B1, C7, E3 and D22. Verrus provides its parking payment system in several cities in Canada and the United States, including Chicago. Blacker said they may expand its use at the University of Illinois, if the pilot program is a success.
Authorities have identified a St. Joseph woman who died in a bizarre accident at Jamaica High School Saturday afternoon.
Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson says an autopsy is scheduled for Monday. She says 36-year old Tammy Walsh was killed and two others were injured when a utility pole snapped in half after a freshman football game. Press reports indicate someone driving away from the event struck a guy wire attached to a utility pole. Tension between a cable connecting that pole to another caused the pole to snap, falling behind a section of bleachers. The pole struck Walsh and two other family members. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Her son, Dalton Walsh, was injured and taken to Carle Foundation Hospital. Another family member was treated and released. The driver of the SUV that hit the wire was not ticketed. Walsh was the cheerleading coach at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, which is expected to provide grief counselors for students at school on Monday.
Saturday's football jamboree at Jamaica High School involved freshman teams from several area schools.
An Illinois appeals court has agreed to allow Villa Grove student to keep his autism helper dog in school.
The Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the family of Kaleb Drew. They had argued that the boy's yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under state law. The boy's mother had testified that the dog prevents the boy from running away, helps him focus on his homework and calms him when he has a tantrum. The appeals court upheld the November decision of a Douglas County judge. The court issued its opinion Tuesday.
The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog's presence and argued that it isn't a true service animal. A telephone message for the school district's attorney was not immediately returned.
Governor Pat Quinn has renewed talk of an income tax hike for education.
The Illinois democrat said getting a 33% increase in income taxes past lawmakers would mean asking school districts to cut property taxes in return. If elected, he said his tax hike will pass the legislature by the end of this year.
During an appearance at the University of Illinois on Friday, Quinn noted how opponent, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) wants to cut education by $1.26 billion, leading to an increase in property taxes. The governor said investing in education means local units of government should abate part of their property taxes.
"This university is a classic example of getting good jobs by having smart people," said Quinn. "So if my opponent - Senator Brady - wants to go around Illinois cutting and slashing education at every level - less scholarships, less early childhood education, less money for K thru 12 - he's on the wrong track."
The governor called the November 2nd election a "referendum for education." He said the difference between electing him and Brady will mean investments versus cuts.
Quinn called Brady a 'false prophet' by simply shifting the tax burden, but he would not say he had assurances from House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton that a vote on his 33% income tax proposal would take place.
Quinn also touted his efforts to start up a $31 billion capital plan for road construction, safer bridges, high speed rail, and sustainability initiatives like solar and wind power that will result in matching federal dollars. He was at the U of I Friday to address the 2010 Sustainable University Symposium. The university has signed the Sustainability Compact, which encourages institutions to use 'green' practices in their campus operations as well as academic and research programs.
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.
A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.
Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.
A wave of illnesses that hit dozens of students in Tuscola may be on its way out.
The superintendent in the Tuscola school district says about 36 students missed school today at North Ward Elementary School, though not all of them were affected by the stomach ailment that sent about 70 students home yesterday.
James Voyles says another ten new cases were reported today, but no students were sent home from school during the day. Douglas County Health Department officials are waiting for test results to determine what caused the stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea in the students.
Federal prosecutors say they will not retry the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich had been accused of scheming with his brother to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeeze people for campaign donations.
A jury last week deadlocked on the four counts against Robert Blagojevich and 23 of 24 counts against the former governor.
Prosecutors said Thursday they made the decision based on the brother's less central role in the alleged schemes. But they have said they will retry Rod Blagojevich.
The hearing Thursday will also determine when a trial could be held.
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.
New revisions in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project has led one local lawmaker to question its viability.
The DOE had already scrapped a new clean coal power plant for Mattoon, in favor of a retrofitted plant in western Illinois. The DOE is also looking for a new site for underground carbon dioxide sequestration, after Mattoon decided to withdraw from FutureGen. Under the latest revised plans, the underground storage site needs ten acres of land --- about five times the size of the Mattoon site. State Representative Chapin Rose --- whose district includes Mattoon --- said the Energy Department's changes threaten to ruin FutureGen
"How on earth are they going to secure the easement for these property owners for a 10-square mile area," asked Rose, who said FutureGen was at one point a good idea. "I don't think the thing's ever going to happen."
The DOE wants to begin construction of the FutureGen project by 2012, but needs to produce an environmental impact report on the storage site first. John Thompson with the non-profit Clean Air Task Force said that alone could take up to three years. He said he wants FutureGen to succeed, but he is concerned the latest changes to the plan may put it in jeopardy.
"If they need to take more time to find the right storage site, they need to do that," said Thompson. "But what's happened over the last month or so is a number of changes that are occurring very quickly without careful consideration, and that needs to change."
A new storage site must be picked before September 30, the deadline when the federal government can dedicate billion of dollars in stimulus funds for FutureGen.
Thompson said he believes the DOE should carefully review the best possible storage fields across the state before it makes a decision, even if it means determining that a nearby power plant would be a better fit for the new oxy-combustion technique rather than the Meredosia plant.
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