Officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation have unveiled an alternative preferred design for upgrades to a portion of the MacArthur Boulevard Corridor.
The design chosen — dubbed Alternative 3 by IDOT — closes the current two lanes of traffic between South Grand and Wabash/Stanford avenues in each direction with an 11-foot-wide center-left turn lane, five-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of the road, and eight-foot-wide, two-way shared-use path on the west side of the road. It also has a bumper for traffic and a 25-inch wide curb and gutter. While the road is well within the Springfield city limits, the road’s maintenance is under IDOT’s jurisdiction.
During an open house Thursday at Franklin Middle School, IDOT Region 4 Engineer Jeff Myers said the preferred alternative has less of an impact on businesses and existing infrastructure than others. For example, fewer businesses on each side of the road are affected by Alternative 3, with fewer parking spaces either reconfigured or eliminated on each side.
“It has the least impact overall down the corridor,” Myers said. “Anytime we do a road improvement, there’s going to be impacts on businesses, there could be impacts on parking for those businesses, so we’re trying to minimize those impacts.”
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IDOT is currently in the engineering phase of its three-pronged plan to complete the project. That phase included field surveys, gathering data about the road and drawing up plans and alternatives for the road. The agency has met with a community advisory group on several occasions over the past two years to discuss how best to go about the project. These meetings were held in conjunction with the two open houses held to provide public input on the designs.
Myers said the meetings and open houses allowed IDOT to examine the feedback provided and then make a determination about what is and isn’t working for the project.
“We take the feedback they give and then we can evaluate the pros and cons of the concepts the public comes up with,” Myers said.
The involvement of the city of Springfield was important to the project, according to Myers. He said Mayor Jim Langfelder and his administration placed a high priority on the success of the project. Public Works Director Nate Bottom said the city is encouraged by the progress made on the project, with the preferred design matching what the city is looking for with the upgrades.
“I think providing the entire street network (with) complete streets and providing bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as well as the vehicular traffic and improving safety as well as the storm sewer will be a big thing for the area,” Bottom said.
Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin shares his fellow city employee’s enthusiasm for the project. McMenamin points to the benefits that a safer and more diverse road would provide for the people who live near that corridor.
“What I think the most promising feature(s) of it might be is increased safety, increased pedestrian-friendly (options), increased bicycle-friendly (options and) improvements on the curb cuts,” McMenamin said. “Landscaping is going to be a big feature of the plan.”
McMenamin will not be on the City Council when construction begins and when the project is completed. However, he feels that this project – in conjunction with previous projects such as the Hy-Vee grocery store, the Boulevard Townhomes and the demolition of the Esquire Theater and future projects such as Town and Country Shopping Center and the Scheels Sports Park at Legacy Pointe – can ‘ have a major impact on the future of the area.
“That (Town and Country) project combined with the road improvement will be transformational for that section of MacArthur Boulevard,” McMenamin said.
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Even with alternatives being proposed and engineering work continuing, nothing is yet set in stone. The purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to gather more feedback on IDOT’s preferred plan.
Some business owners were concerned about the adjustments made to parking that would go along with the project. Joe Utterback, owner of Penny Lane at the southern end of the improvement area, is concerned about how many parking spaces will be left for his business when the project is officially completed.
“We’ve been there over 40 years (and) we have 30 employees, so it’s kind of hard to justify that,” Utterback said. “We have over 100 customers who use that parking lot every day. To me, it shows that the community would rather use our parking lot and the products in our store than use a bike path.”
Utterback is also concerned about the safety of those who use the road for shared use, in addition to using taxpayer money for the road with other places where people can bike nearby. Utterback said he doesn’t have a clear idea on how IDOT can change its design to conform to what works best for a business like Penny Lane.
“We’re still fresh off that meeting, so we’re just trying to take it all in,” Utterback said. “We are open to suggestions and talking to them, exploring other options and seeing what can be done. But we don’t have one solution that will do the trick.”