With Some Raised Eyebrows, Residents Take Deeper Look at Willow Road Plans
Thursday's meetings offered IDOT officials the chance to explain the benefits of their proposed plans. Yet some nearby residents questioned the longevity of the plan's benefits.
Dozens of people from Northfield, Glenview, Northbrook and surrounding communities soaked up an in-depth look at the redesign of Willow Road at Thursday's public hearing at New Trier High School’s Northfield Campus. While Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) officials offered feedback and explanation, nearby residents still seemed skeptical.
The plan would impact the congested artery from Waukegan Road to the Edens Expressway. With an estimated price tag of $29 million, the proposal includes four 10-foot-wide lanes for most of its length, with a landscaped median, left-turn lanes, modernized traffic signals and sidewalks along both sides. A pedestrian-only signal would allow people to stop traffic to cross Willow Road between Willow and Clarkson parks, and the speed limit would be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph.
Earlier: IDOT Unveils Willow Road Options
The plan is the product of more than two years of work beween IDOT and a community advisory group, which included representatives from Northfield and the surrounding communities. IDOT expects to approve final plans this summer and start construction next year, with completion scheduled for fall 2014.
Northfield residents who attended the hearing mostly had an attitude of resignation.
“The landscaping is beautiful,” said Barbara Moore of Northfield, when asked to share her opinion of the recommendation. Moore has lived in Northfield for 40 years, and said that growth in the area has changed its character. “It was going to happen. It was obvious it was going to happen,” she said. “The caveat is that it’s sad it had to come to this.”
Carrie Ann Schmidt, who lives about a block from Willow Road in Northfield, also said that the landscape plantings look nice — at least for the first year.
“Then it will be winter and the salt will kill everything,” she said.
Peter Harmet, IDOT’s bureau chief of programming, said IDOT and the Village of Northfield will work with the Chicago Botanic Garden to choose plantings that will survive with a minimum of maintenance, and that most of the maintenance will be done by the village.
Al and Katie Hackbarth live in Glenview, but grew up in the area and still have a daughter and other family members in the village.
“I drive through here maybe five times a week,” Katie Hackbarth said. The proposal looks good, she said, as proposals usually do. But she is worried about the two years of construction, and doesn’t think it’s necessary. “I would have liked to see some improvements to the three lanes that are there now,” she said.
She also questioned how much time drivers would save with the speed limit decreased to 30 mph.
Harmet, of IDOT, countered that even with a lower speed limit, having two lanes in each direction with a modern, synchronized traffic signals, will improve traffic flow and reduce wait times at intersections. But just as important are the safety improvements, Harmet said.
“This is a road where we average three injury accidents a month,” he said. “Most of those happen when there is congestion.”
Also, with one lane in each direction flanked by shoulders and aging sidewalks, the current road leaves much to be desired in terms of pedestrian safety, he said.
“It’s not really a pedestrian-friendly environment,” Harmet said. “You don’t know where the road ends and the sidewalk begins at some points.”
Glenview Assistant Village Manager Don Owens, who was part of the planning process, said he thinks the recommendation is a good balance of efforts to improve traffic flow for the whole area and to address safety concerns for Northfield residents.
Glenview neighborhoods now deal with the effects of congestion on Willow Road as people drive through residential neighborhoods to try to get around it, he said. Making the lanes 10 feet wide, instead of the standard 12 feet, leads drivers to go more slowly, he said, and the lower speed limit also will help.
And although the new road would have four lanes, plus a median, it would not be too much wider than the two lanes and shoulders that exist now.
IDOT is still accepting comments on the hearing. They can be submitted until May 3 at www.willowroadfuture.org.
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