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Wednesday, June 13, 2007 01:05 am

Beyond potholes

Citizens can help draw area’s transportation roadmap

Will planners address the dangerous intersection at MacArthur and Lawrence?
Untitled Document Irv Smith now knows how poor transportation planning feels. Late last month, Smith and his wife, Joan, were injured in the six-vehicle pileup at MacArthur Boulevard and Lawrence Avenue. But as alderman of Ward 8 for two decades, Smith always sided with neighborhood preservationists in opposing plans to make improvements there. Now the longtime Republican leader says that preservation is important — but so is safety. “When this happened, I was so upset because both my wife and I have been through a whole lot in the past year . . . and suddenly values change,” he says.
Smith’s accident reignited debate over what, if anything, the city should do to fix the wreck-prone intersection. Even his old political adversary, former local Democratic Party chairman Bob Wesley, who lives nearby, is on board. This is an issue that is not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue; it is a dangerous one,” Wesley says.
Solutions have ranged from installing turn lanes — at a cost of about $1.5 million, according to Mayor Tim Davlin — to stricter traffic enforcement to expanding public transit as a means of alleviating congestion on local roads. Whatever changes are made, however, will become part of the broader transportation plan, which Springfield residents can help shape. Last week the Springfield Area Transportation Study, which receives and disperses federal transportation earmarked for local road projects, released a draft amendment to the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission’s 2030 Long Range Transportation Plan and is now seeking input from the public. “It’s a much larger issue than ‘There’s a pothole in front of my house,’ ” says Susan Poludniak, interim executive director of the regional planning commission. “Do you think there are areas of safety that aren’t covered in the report? Maybe there should more emphasis on sidewalks or street widening.”
A wish list of sorts for local transportation officials, the long-range plan gives an overview of the area’s transportation network and identifies approximately 80 “financially attainable” projects scheduled for the next 25 years, as well as sources of funding.
Another three dozen projects, including a multimodal transportation terminal, for which funding is not available before 2030, are also included in that report. The amendment brings the plan into compliance with the newest federal highway bill before the next fiscal year begins, Poludniak explains. While reviewing the long-range plan, written in March 2005, the planning commission zeroed in on six areas that needed further explanation: environmental and human transportation issues, public participation, operations and management, safety, and security. “Not that our plan in the past is bad — there are just new requirements, and this is where we need to expand,” Poludniak says. With respect to safety and security, the city of Springfield is monitoring locations with unusually high numbers of accidents and where certain types of collisions occur more frequently; looking for roads that are carrying cars beyond their capacity, which may lead to erratic driving; and identifying hazards to the city through its emergency-operations plan.
The report also lists seven species of threatened and endangered species — mostly birds and snakes but also one type of squirrel — and recommends measures “to aid in protecting the environment and preventing some of the negative impacts of transportation projects” on the environment. Thirty-two agencies and organizations — including various city departments, state agencies, the National Weather Service, rail-freight operators, the University of Illinois at Springfield, and media outlets — are among the stakeholders in the long-range plan, which will be revised in 2010.
The public-comment period on the amendment to the long-range plan, which can be found on the county’s Web site, www.co.sangamon.il.us, ends July 1.
Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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