After voting to delay a vote in order to get more answers from the Illinois Department of Transportation about the project, the Riverside village board is poised on Friday to approve a letter of intent to pay for a portion of improvements planned at the intersection of First and Forest avenues.
Village President Ben Sells called a special meeting of the board for 4 p.m., Feb. 28, at Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road, for the expressed purpose of approving the letter of intent. A vote on the matter that had been set for Feb. 20 was delayed after Trustee Doug Pollock raised safety concerns about the planned improvements.
“I’m concerned about the widening of the street,” said Pollock. “It will reduce pedestrian safety. The right-turn lane [on First Avenue] will enable cars to move faster through the intersection.”
Pollock’s concerns mirrored those of Riverside resident Randy Brockway, whose efforts to improve safety at that intersection by making it more bike- and pedestrian-friendly were instrumental in drawing the attention of local and state officials.
Brockway has also criticized the plan. If a turn lane is added, Brockway would like a raised median in the middle of First Avenue as a refuge for pedestrians. But IDOT officials say the median would reduce safety, requiring the street to be widened further.
“I have not seen any information to support Doug’s concerns,” said Sells, who is eager for the village board to give IDOT the signal to move ahead with the improvements.
Riverside is being asked to pay about $50,000 toward signal improvements, which would be part of the project, whose total cost will be about $355,000.
According to Sells, IDOT Project Engineer Theresa Pelletier will be present at the meeting on Friday to answer questions trustees may have about the plan.
By signing the letter of intent, Riverside will give IDOT the green light to put the project out for bid by as early as this summer.
John Baczek, project and environmental studies section chief for IDOT, told the Landmark on Monday that the agency wants to bid the project in June.
“Presumably, construction would begin this summer,” said Baczek. “It’s a fairly compact project, and we’d expect that it would be wrapped up by the end of the year.”
Initially, IDOT planned for the improvements to be made in 2015, but Sells indicated on Monday that IDOT may be trying to align construction with a sewer project in the area being planned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Cook County.
IDOT plans to widen First Avenue by 6 feet to install a right-turn lane on southbound First Avenue at Ridgewood Road. The agency also plans to narrow the thru-traffic lanes approaching the intersection as a traffic-calming measure. In addition, plans include a right-turn lane on westbound Forest Avenue approaching First Avenue.
New LED countdown traffic signals will be installed as part of the improvement, and the agency will build a portion of an 8-foot-wide bike/pedestrian path on the west side of First Avenue, running north from Parkview Avenue to Ridgewood and then north another 615 feet to a driveway near the rear of the school. That path could be extended farther north in the future.
Much of the concern about safety that remains appears to be driven by the fact that IDOT refuses to make public a “road safety audit,” which was performed last fall by an independent group. The information resulting from the audit reportedly supported IDOT’s plans for the intersection and additionally concluded that one crossing guard was sufficient for the area.
However, no one outside of IDOT has actually seen that audit, which is a red flag, said Pollock.
“I haven’t seen any of the studies in the report,” said Pollock.
IDOT maintains that the road safety audit report is exempt from Freedom of Information requests.
“It’s a pre-decisional document protected under FOIA rules,” said Baczek, who declined to comment further on critics’ concerns related to the document being kept under wraps.