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Road construction pains eventually turn to gains

Eric Brinker expects that by mid-November cheers will replace jeers regarding the reconstruction of the intersection of University Street and Glen Avenue, as traffic moves easily and safely when the holiday shopping season gets into full throttle.

Brinker, president of the Metro Centre and a positive thinker, said he keeps reminding himself and his tenants of that when traffic at and near the intersection gets backed up. That intersection averages more than 46,000 vehicles each day.

“It’s going to be wonderful, I think. It will be good for all of us here at Metro Centre and all around us as well as up and down what is the busiest retail corridor in the city,” Brinker said. “I think., too, that this reaffirms the Metro Center is at the very center of Peoria. It will help us attract more great tenants and keep the ones we have.”

Construction at the intersection began a few weeks ago and is expected to last into November. It entails removal of the medians at and leading to the intersection, relocating traffic light poles from the medians, repairs to the sidewalks and curb and repaving. The intersection will be made fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city will keep one lane open in each direction throughout the project, but is encouraging motorists to find alternatives routes unless they are going to one of the businesses in the area.

Motorists seem to be taking heed, said Paul Sherman, president of Sherman’s at 1215 W. Glen Ave. “I think the daily commuters have figured it out. There are certain times of day where there is quite a traffic backup, but not as much as when it first started,” he said.

Ronda Daily, owner of Bremer Jewelry at 4707 N. University St., said she thinks the decrease in traffic snarls has less to do with drivers avoiding the area and more with learning to work around it. “I see it every day, people cutting through Metro Centre or by Schnucks. Still, I just don’t think it is a big problem except for a couple normally busy times of day,” she said.

Like Brinker and Sherman, Daily looks at the situation with a positive mindset. “I think its going to bring this area into the 21st century, so to speak. It will be good for traffic flow and for those who want to walk in the area from place to place. It will be safer.

“I think anytime the city does a road project it’s difficult at first, but it always ends up being better for the community,” she said.

Brinker and Sherman lauded the city for keeping the residents and commercial and retail tenants in the area informed about the project from the start. Brinker hosted a meeting of the city and those affected and he believes it helped ease the anxiety such projects often cause. “We worked closely with the city to minimize the inconvenience as much as possible. The city has a good plan in place and so far is sticking to it, and when we have concerns about something, they listen,” he said.

The city said the project came about because it listened to concerns about the condition of the road as well as safety concerns about the poles in the medians. Sherman said people in his store have heard those poles get hit by cars many times as well as other accidents at the intersection. “They happen pretty frequently. When this is done it’s going to be nice and a heckuva lot safer.”

David Barber, director of public works for the city, said concerns about making the intersection ADA compliant and generally safer was the impetus for for the improvements. “The islands we have there were not the safest and were not compliant with ADA; not when people had to cross to the island and step up on a curb to push the crosswalk signal button,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure it was pedestrian friendly while improving the pavement in the area, and putting in new sidewalks and improving the drive approaches where appropriate.”

The islands where the poles now are will be removed and it’s likely the medians continuing down the streets in all directions will not be replaced once repaving is completed, as long as studies show there won’t be significant turning problems if they are not replaced.

“Our goal, of course, is to improve traffic flow while making the area more pedestrian friendly. Nobody likes to slow down and drive through congestion while the work is being done, but that doesn’t last forever.

“Of course, there is something to be said for slowing the cars down if it lets people see what stores and businesses are in that area,” he added.

Sherman also believes the improvements will have a positive effect on the area. “Just as bad things can have a domino effect, the same is true when positive things happen. I think this will give impetus to the property owners in the area to keep up their own properties, which also will help attract people to the area,” he said.

Another area of the city where road construction is a pain at the moment is on Northmoor Road, mostly around its intersection with Sheridan Road and in all directions leading to that intersection. That is just the second phase of a multiple-phase project that will see the entire length of Northmoor Road improved, from Knoxville Avenue to Allen Road.

The first phase – from Knoxville Avenue to Sheridan Road – is completed and the largest commercial business on that stretch is better off for it, one person said.

Meredith Bunch, president of Midstate College at 411 W. Northmoor Road, said the new road – three newly paved lanes with a center turn lane – was well worth the hassles during the construction. The city, she added, worked to keep those hassles to a minimum. “It really never was disruptive,” she said.

“It’s been a great enhancement to the whole area and now with the work being done on the Rock Island Trail right next to us, the attractiveness of our school and the area is really being enhanced,” Bunch said.

Homeowners in the second phase of the project, however, remain unconvinced it will be positive overall, said Stan Harris, president of the Northmoor Hills Homeowners Association. That’s particularly true, he noted, of those homeowners on the north side of Kensington Road, which runs parallel to Northmoor. Those homeowners will lose a part of their backyards when Northmoor is widened to two lanes and a center turn lane and they are concerned about the noise factor as the road will be closer to their houses.

Homeowners also fear the improvements will increase traffic through the area, Harris said, but he acknowledged the city listened to those concerns when it changed the original plan, which called for four lanes and a center turn lane. “That plan met with a tremendous amount of resistance,” he said.

Still, Harris noted, there are positives to be considered. One is improved safety , especially with the addition of sidewalks on the south side of Northmoor, and better drainage systems that will keep water from accumulating in ditches along the road.

Barber said the identified needs along Northmoor were safety and traffic flow. He acknowledged studies showed there is enough traffic to warrant five lanes, but said the city doesn’t want to do that – at least for now. There is no question, he added, that something was needed to remove bottlenecks that happen now without a center turn lane. “Traffic really backs up if a car is turning left and that creates problems,” he said.

With new sidewalks and the bike path under construction in the area, “we are making it more pedestrian friendly. We are trying to be as understanding as we can about the concerns of the residents, but we have to meet the safety needs,” Barber said.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at (309) 692-7880 or email him at paul@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).