ROCHELLE — In 2004, The City of Rochelle sent a letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation requesting it look at improvements to Illinois Route 251 through the north side of town.
Those requests included urbanizing that section and putting in curb and gutter, new pavement, pedestrian paths and traffic signals. At that point, the state said they’d do it and put it on their multi-year plan, City Engineer Sam Tesreau said. The multi-year plan is put together every five years and various projects are evaluated for things like funding.
“Long story short, it's been on their multi-year plan now for about 17 years,” Tesreau said. “But it is part of the plan. Over those years, we've had a lot of discussions with the state about accelerating the project and trying to push forward with the funding, but sometimes it's a very political situation where funds are going to be distributed.”
Phase one of the project was completed in 2009 at the intersection of Flagg Road and Illinois Route 251. That went from the Illinois Route 251 bridge down to Fairview Drive. There was a series of public meetings about the full project in 2008 that Tesreau said were “really positive” and he felt things were trending forward.
“Then it just got shelved,” Tesreau said. “The more we asked, it was always funding, funding, funding. Most recently though in the past month, I know the state has engaged a consultant to start looking at the section again and finish up design plans. How long that will take, I'm not quite sure. They haven't let us know. I'm hopeful within the next two years we could probably see construction. But I also know it's taken this long to happen.”
The area the city wants reconstructed is from Fairview Drive where the original Illinois Route 251 project left off to just south of the intersection with Illinois Route 38 along with a section of Illinois Route 38 to the east just past Lincoln Highway, Tesreau said.
Tesreau believes construction would take “a little over a year” to complete. There are some things the city would be responsible for such as street lighting, utility adjustments, pedestrian pass and a small portion of signalization upgrades. He said the city is ready to do that.
The city and state have an intergovernmental agreement for maintenance of the road that includes pavement striping and minor pothole patching. What Illinois 251 needs goes “well beyond” maintenance, Tesreau said.
“Our frustration as a city is we have a section of roadway out there that we know is failing,” Tesreau said. “This section of the roadway has in fact gotten to that point where it needs to be fully reconstructed. It needs to be widened out to five lanes including the bi-directional lane down the middle. The signals need to be improved, the drainage needs to be improved. It's something we've been discussing now for a number of years and we just feel it needs to be done.”
Tesreau said he hopes some of the new funds the federal government has released will trickle down to the state and some movement will be seen on the project. City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said starting this week the city will be having quarterly meetings with IDOT about Illinois Route 251.
He called the potential project a high priority and wanted the meetings to keep the state on track. Getting Illinois 251 reconstructed is one the city’s “bigger” lobbying efforts.
“People who think we can just fix it, we can't,” Fiegenschuh said. “We have no jurisdiction over that route whatsoever. They maintain it, they plow it, it's their route. The road is in horrible shape.”
Tesreau said the city has fielded “multiple” citizen complaints about the road. He thinks if residents made enough complaints to the state and contacted local legislators that it could help move the situation along.
The city engineer called the roadway’s maintenance over the years “band-aided together.”
“There's only so long you can band-aid things before you have a complete failure of that facility,” Tesreau said. “In my opinion, that's what we're going to be looking at along certain sections."
Rochelle’s recent changes to the targeted area around Illinois Route 251 including The REC Center, a planned Starbucks location and future development of the Hickory Grove site would benefit from improvements to the route.
"It's not just a roadway for the motoring public,” Tesreau said. “But it's also the gateway into our community. And we have an opportunity right now along that stretch of roadway to revitalize the area in terms of commercial retail and improvement like this will only add to that benefit that we could see in terms of access to those businesses."