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By Bob Uphues
Eight years after funding for the project was first announced, work will begin this fall on a reconfiguration of the streets and parking lot at Brookfield Zoo's North Gate in order to cut down on the traffic backups that plague the area on busy days.
On Sept. 12, Gov. Pat Quinn announced the release of $3,522,797 to make improvements at the intersection of 31st Street and Golfview Avenue, which will include street widening, new traffic signals, a new storm sewer, landscaping and other improvements.
Work on reconfiguring the parking lot entrance and location of the ticket booths is expected to begin this fall. Work on changes to 31st Street and Golfview Avenue proper won't begin until April 2014.
Construction plans on file with the village of Brookfield indicate that 31st Street will be widened east and west of Golfview Avenue. A left-turn-only lane will be placed on eastbound 31st Street at Golfview Avenue, so eastbound traffic won't be delayed by anyone turning left to get to the North Gate entrance.
Meanwhile, on the south side of 31st Street, the unsightly concrete barriers will be removed in place of a more attractive landscaped area, and a new bus turnout/dropoff lane will provide bus commuters and pedestrians direct access to the zoo entrance on the south side of the street.
The traffic patterns on Golfview Road will change noticeably as a result of improvements slated there. On northbound Golfview Road, there will be a new left turn-only lane, giving access to the zoo's North Gate.
Heading southbound, traffic will feed into Golfview Road from First Avenue via a dedicated lane separated from northbound Golfview Road traffic by a raised median. The change will allow for a straighter approach to Golfview. Cars turning onto Golfview from southbound First Avenue currently have to make a quick veer to the right, which can be hazardous. That maneuver will now be eliminated.
The right-hand lane of traffic on southbound Golfview will feed directly into the North Gate entrance. Ticket booths at the North Gate will also be set farther back to allow up to six lanes of traffic to stack up for about 500 feet inside the entrance gate.
Such a solution is expected to alleviate traffic backups on both 31st Street and First Avenue.
In addition to the roadways, there will be improvements to lighting in the area.
Quinn's announcement last month has been long expected. Brookfield Zoo first learned it was in line for funding for the improvements back in August 2005, when U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and Sen. Dick Durbin announced that the project had received federal transportation funding during a joint press conference at the zoo.
The state of Illinois is providing matching funds to complete the project.