Calls from a handful of Riverside residents to the Illinois Department of Transportation in late 2014 are threatening to delay the East Burlington Street streetscape improvement project slated for the summer of 2015.
In late December, Christopher Holt, the bureau chief for IDOT’s Bureau of Local Roads and Streets in the Chicago area, notified the village that because of concerns raised about the openness of the design process, officials would have to appear at a Jan. 13 meeting to document the process and its efforts to include public input.
Interim Village Manager Jessica Frances, Community Development Director Sonya Abt and Village Engineer Orion Galey will be meeting with IDOT and Federal Highway Administration officials next week.
Asked what the level of IDOT’s concern is about the project, Abt said that IDOT officials don’t have concerns so much as “they’ve hit a threshold” of complaints, which have come primarily from three people, according to an email sent by Holt on Dec. 22.
Dianna LaMantia, the chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, contacted IDOT officials several times in late 2014 to verify concerns that if the Burlington Street improvements were delayed that the village might lose one or both of its federal grants, which total about $1 million.
LaMantia publicly upbraided Village President Ben Sells about that particular issue and scolded village trustees and other officials for not contacting IDOT officials personally to verify that claim.
LaMantia and village officials learned that losing the grant funding would be unlikely, even if the project was delayed until 2016.
Along with LaMantia, Holt’s email identified concerns raised by Riverside residents Jane Archer and Randy Brockway.
Archer has publicly derided the design process. At the Dec. 18 meeting of the Riverside Village Board, Archer complained that there appeared to be “a huge push to get this approved as-is without what I consider a design process. This design falls well short of what we could have.”
“This is the heart of the matter,” Holt wrote in his Dec. 22 email. “Has the project met their phase 1 processing requirements? Among these obligations are steps needed to protect historical districts and incorporate public input. If it can be demonstrated that reasonable accommodation has been made to all reasonable criticism, the [the Federal Highway Administration] and IDOT will authorize work to proceed to construction.”
Reached on Tuesday morning, Holt said the Jan. 13 meeting is one that every project involving federal funds must have, and that it should have happened earlier.
Abt said such a meeting was scheduled for September, because of initial plans that called for parking to be removed from the south side of East Burlington Street. Almost all of that parking has since been added back into the plan, and the meeting was scrapped, said Abt.
Still, Holt characterized the Jan. 13 meeting as routine.
“This is being treated no differently on our end than any other federally funded project,” Holt said.
LaMantia said she was happy village officials were meeting with IDOT and federal officials now, although it ought to have occurred earlier in the game.
“I think it’s of critical importance that all of these parties are coordinated,” LaMantia said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I think this is a necessary meeting that should have taken place a while ago. It’s a long time coming.”
Village officials say they’re confident that they have taken steps to solicit and incorporate public input during the design process. The plan was brought before several advisory commissions and the Chamber of Commerce in late summer. Input from those groups resulted in changes that were rolled out to the community at a public forum in November.
Even after the forum, the design was changed based on feedback the village continued to receive. Still, not everyone is happy with the result.
Abt said that the village is still moving ahead with the project as planned. The hope is to get on IDOT’s June bid period and begin construction in early August. The village has until the end of January to get final design documents to IDOT, said Abt.
But until the Jan. 13 meeting is over and IDOT and federal officials decide everything is OK, there’s a chance the project could face delays.
“It really comes down to whether the representatives of those agencies feel they need to be adding extra time or meetings,” said Frances. “Unfortunately, it’s out of our hands. We’ll provide them with the documentation and information we have. They’ll decide.”