After responding to the 12th traffic accident on First Avenue near Ridgewood Road/Forest Avenue since a construction project began in the area in late June, Riverside’s police chief has called for a meeting between village officials and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to get more information on when exactly the project will wrap up.
That’s because in two weeks, on Aug. 13, classes begin at Riverside-Brookfield High School, bringing with it hundreds of pedestrians and even more vehicles each morning and afternoon to the gridlocked intersection.
“I’ve reached out to the MWRD’s construction manager to see what the schedule is,” said Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. “I’m concerned that the sidewalk on the north side of the street won’t be open.”
Weitzel is scheduled to meet with officials from MWRD, the Illinois Department of Transportation, RBHS, Riverside School District 96, North Riverside, Brookfield and Riverside on July 30.
“I will release my recommendation and staffing early next week,” Weitzel said.
Right now the north sidewalk and the crosswalk leading directly to RBHS are closed and could remain that way into October. That means students will have to cross First Avenue on the south side of the intersection and then cross Ridgewood Road going north to get to school.
Since there’s only one crossing guard normally stationed at that intersection, Riverside police are working on a plan to help keep that intersection as safe as possible for students while construction continues.
Weitzel said he may have to station a police officer at the intersection every day or assign the department’s stand-by crossing guard at the intersection to assist the other crossing guard.
“We have to devise a plan for the crossing guards,” said Weitzel.
RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said that the school’s principal will send out a letter to families in early August addressing the construction issue and how it will affect arrival and dismissal at school.
“Hopefully we’ll have something out in the next week and get something to students in the first week of August,” said Skinkis. “Nothing is finalized yet.”
The construction area has been a dangerous place since the MWRD began its work to build an access shaft to one of its interceptor sewers in preparation for a large sewer improvement project in coming years.
Traffic has been narrowed to one lane in either direction through the work zone, and emergency personnel have responded to a dozen crashes, mostly of the low-speed variety as vehicles merge, but some of them serious.
On July 13 a man riding a bicycle on First Avenue suffered minor injuries when someone impatient to get to the zoo, opened a passenger door into traffic. On July 16 a woman was injured after her car was rammed from behind and into a semi-tractor trailer by a woman who dozed off while in stop and go traffic near the construction zone.
And in the 12th incident since work began, on July 23 four people were taken to Loyola University Medical Center after a merging minivan struck the passenger side of a 2012 Cadillac SRX carrying a family from Texas who were traveling to Brookfield Zoo. The crash happened in the southbound lanes of traffic, just north of Ridgewood Road.
A 32-year-old Rio Grande, Texas, woman complained of pain in her right side, which was next to the door struck by the minivan. The vehicle was damaged so badly that firefighters had to extricate the victims from the Cadillac and traffic was shut down in both directions on First Avenue between 31st Street and Ridgewood Road for more than an hour from roughly 11 a.m. until just after noon.
The driver of the minivan, a 79-year-old Chicago man, was ticketed for improper lane usage. The driver of the Cadillac wasn’t injured. But paramedics transported the rest of the passengers, children ranging in age from 2 to 11 to Loyola along with the injured woman.
Weitzel said that while there will be police and crossing guards present at arrival and dismissal times, he’s worried about other times such as early evening when after-school activities end and other activities, such athletic events, are beginning. There won’t be crossing guards for the many people still coming to and from the school.
“It’s still going to be a concern,” said Weitzel.
Once the MWRD is finished with its work, construction will continue at the intersection when the Illinois Department of Transportation begins making improvements to the intersection, which will include construction on the north side of Forest Avenue and the west side of southbound First Avenue.
That work may also block access to the north crosswalk to RBHS. The IDOT construction is not expected to finish up until sometime in November.