East-west traffic changes begin today on Walnut, South and Lillian
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | March 2, 2012
City officials ramped into high gear this week after receiving short notice that the state next week will shut down the eastbound ramp from McLean Boulevard onto Route 20 for as long as 90 days as a massive, three-year, $40.6 million reconstruction of the intersection gets into gear.
What it means for those who drive regularly along Walnut Avenue, South Street and Lillian Street is that, thanks to a lot of scrambling by Elgin crews, there will be a lot of intersection changes in place on Friday along those combined routes. Message board have been warning drivers about the coming changes, which are intended to improve the flow of east-west traffic.
Elgin police Lt. Glenn Theriault said Thursday the traffic changes — which include closing South and Walnut, reconfiguring stop signs at four intersections and adjusting the timing of traffic signals at McLean and Lillian — have been designed with two priorities: safety first, then convenience for drivers. Further, he said, the city will be monitoring the area with an eye toward fine-tuning the changes, as well as toward enforcing the law.
“Elgin is doing everything it can to accommodate construction traffic,” Theriault said.
But speeders will be cited, said Elgin police Sgt. Al Young of the city’s traffic division. He reminded drivers texting and driving is illegal, and that talking on cellphones is banned in construction and school zones.
>> Three-year project
The Illinois Department of Transportation intends to reconstruct the Route 20 and McLean intersection from its diamond configuration to one called a single-point urban interchange. The project is massive in scope and is intended to alleviate congestion that has been amassing steadily at the intersection over the years.
Theriault said Elgin Community College will be hit particularly hard by the ramp closure: The official detour for those wanting to head east will take them west instead along Weld Road to Randall, where they can connect to eastbound Route 20.
But people will seek out their own routes, and the city anticipates some of that traffic will head to the Lillian-South-Walnut corridor. The changes the city is making along that route are intended to minimize risks while improving traffic flow through the neighborhoods along the route.
This first phase of the project actually began in late fall. Plote Construction Inc., of Hoffman Estates, is the prime contractor on the preliminary $9.8 million first phase, which involves installing two concrete retaining walls along U.S. 20 and temporarily widening the highway and bridge over McLean to accommodate traffic during the larger interchange reconstruction project in late 2012 and through the fall of 2014. Ramp closures were not part of the original plan.
But Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said Thursday there was not enough space for construction crews to work around the eastbound ramp while building the temporary ramp and doing related work in preparation for the larger, second phase of the project. Claffey said the ramp closure will begin next week but will be in effect only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. He said the eastbound Route 20 ramp closure should be in place no more than 90 days.
Theriault noted that because the ramp closure does not include weekends, it should have no impact on the Elgin Sports Complex, which he said is very busy during the summer.
>> Elgin aims to be ready Friday
Theriault said there are five significant changes rolling out Friday on the crosstown route along Lillian-South-Walnut. He noted Walnut Avenue typically sees about 4,000 vehicles, while only about 700 a day drive along South Street. During rush hours, traffic backs up quite a bit at South and Edison, as well as at Walnut and South. City officials hope some of the changes will change that. Theriault outlined the changes as follows :
- Lillian at McLean: City crews are adjusting the timing of the traffic lights at the intersection with an eye toward improving the westbound flow of traffic.
- South and Edison: The four-way stop at this at this intersection will be changed to eliminate the east-west stop signs. Theriault said this intersection will be monitored because it directly affects Sunset Park residents. But he also pointed out that relatively few north- or southbound vehicles pass through the intersection compared to those heading east or west. In addition, the school crossing guard at that location will be removed and children will be instructed to cross at Lillian and Clifton, where another crossing guard will ensure they cross safely.
- South Street at Walnut Avenue: Friday morning, city crews will close off South Street at Walnut, Water-filled barrels known as Jersey barriers will be used to close South Street, and the city will remove the “Stop” sign for westbound Walnut, making a continuous flow of traffic. The South-Walnut merge already is known as a dangerous intersection, with a dozen accidents recorded there last year. Closing South Street should alleviate that, Theriault said, but it also sets the stage for the next intersection change.
- South Street at Wilcox Avenue and Erie Street: Vehicles on South Street do not stop at this intersection, but north- and southbound drivers on Wilcox, as well as eastbound drivers on Erie, must stop as well. Theriault said the intersection will become a five-way stop and that “Dead end” signs will be placed along South to the west of the barricade,
- South and Vine streets: Nearly two decades after residents of this neighborhood originally asked, it looks as though they will get a four-way stop at this intersection.
Theriault said the changes along Lillian, South and Walnut will be in placed for 90 days but could be made permanent if they prove effective.