Riverside received some good news this week with regard to the improvements planned for First Avenue at the Forest/Ridgewood intersection. According to one Illinois Department of Transportation official on Monday, the work — if a letter of intent to participate in the cost of the project is approved on Friday by the Riverside village board — will likely be completed in 2014. That’s a full year earlier than IDOT led Riverside to believe a year ago.

Improvements to the busy intersection, through which tens of thousands of cars and trucks rumble each day, are sorely needed. The addition of a right-turn lane on westbound Forest Avenue will allow impatient parents a much easier way to cross the intersection and get their kids to school safely. The planned right-turn lane on southbound First Avenue will prevent vehicles from backing up to the north in a through-traffic lane.

In all, the improvements ought to make drivers less prone to doing stupid things, like dropping kids off in the middle of Forest Avenue or on a backed-up First Avenue. Police, obviously, will still need to monitor the area at school drop-off and pick-up times to keep things moving in front of the high school.

But with the addition of new countdown signals and pavement markings, we believe this improvement will make a difference. An added bonus is the first few hundred feet of an 8-foot-wide bike/pedestrian trail, which will be built on the west side of First Avenue from Parkview to a point about 600 feet north of Ridgewood Road.

It’s not much of a trail, but it’s a start and will serve as a constant reminder to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns the land north of that point to extend its Salt Creek Trail in that direction and provide a safe, viable route for North Riverside kids who want to walk or bike to school.

The bad news is that IDOT stubbornly refuses to make public the results of a road-safety audit that an independent group completed for the agency last fall. A dozen or more people were onsite last fall, observing conditions and checking those observations against the plan IDOT had formulated.

No one outside of IDOT has seen the report, which the agency claims is beyond the reach of FOIA, because it is “pre-decisional.” 

First of all, we’d like to know what that means. IDOT was already well into its engineering of the improvements; that decision had already been made. Every agency involved in the initial planning was on board. There were no decisions remaining to be made.

Sure, Riverside needs to vote to chip in $50,000 on Friday, but this project is signed, sealed and delivered.

All the foot-dragging on the audit does is keep aflame doubts about the safety of the planned improvements. If the audit reinforces IDOT’s design, why on earth would IDOT want to give ammunition to doubters? It reeks of ridiculous bureaucratic turf-guarding.

If doubters continue to nag IDOT in Riverside, the agency has itself to blame.