Pace of Project Picks Up | As I-74 Work Builds Towards Monumental 2005, Patience Will Be Key For Central Illinois Motorists


DATE: 06/13/2004


As I-74 Work Builds Towards Monumental 2005, Patience Will Be Key For Central Illinois Motorists

This aerial photograph, taken in May, looks east along Interstate 74 from just west of the Sterling Avenue overpass. The northbound half of the over-pass is under construction, while southbound lanes already have been rebuilt. At each corner of the intersection,work has started on new ramps to be built in 2005 and ’06.

They said from the start that the Interstate 74 overhaul would be huge. But when engineers labeled Upgrade 74 the top downstate road project to date — $460 million price tag included — the title could hardly prepare Peoria-area motorists for what was to come.

come. And construction has yet to kick into high gear.

“Right now, the construction is kind of spotted,” said Eric Therkildsen, program development engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It ’s not a continuous line from East Peoria to Sterling (Avenue).

“Come later this fall and mainly next April, it ’s going to be continuous construction from Washington Street in East Peoria all the way to Sterling,” he said..“It ’s going to be a lot different of a feel.”

The first-phase work, which amounts to about $100 million, 3,500 orange barrels and 500 barricades, continues through November with all work on aging overpasses and auxiliary roads still going according to schedule. Bids on the second stage, expected to reach around $160 million, are due by mid-summer.

Some preparatory work on phase two starts this fall, but major shifts in traffic patterns associated with the second phase won’t emerge until spring 2005, when all of I-74 from Downtown through East Peoria shuts down. Eastbound lanes spanning the entire length of construction also will close, with traffic detoured onto existing westbound lanes, which will be divided by temporary concrete barriers.

IDOT engineers credit contractors and strict contractual deadlines with maintaining the project’s original timetable, which predicts a christening for the refurbished interstate in December 2006. Finances also appear to be on target.

Contingencies built into the estimated overall cost will cover skyrocketing fuel and steel prices, Therkildsen said,though inflation may raise the final tally when all is said and done.

A computer rendering placed over the same photograph shows what Interstate 74 will look like when reconstruction ends in 2006.

“We don’t work in tomorrow’s dollars; we work in today’s, ”Therkildsen said. “We inflate it as we move along.”

Meanwhile, commuters appear to have adjusted to permanent and temporary closures, as well as lane reductions,detours and delays. Several motorists who wrote to the Journal Star about their experiences driving through work zones commended contractors and IDOT for keeping traffic flowing.

“Of course, some extra time has been required, but Christmas traffic has caused more problems (than I-74 work),” said Peorian Bliss Phillips. “My one main deviation has been to avoid the University Street overpass and exits. The volume of traffic (through) that area cannot be accommodated as normal.”

Carole Hill of Peoria also avoids the University bridge, opting to take Sterling to Farmington Road and Main Street when she needs to access Downtown.

“In general, one can get around town (though) a little more slowly and indirectly than in the past,” Hill said..“This huge project will have great benefit to our city and its residents when it is completed. We all just need to be patient.”

That ’s the mantra IDOT has espoused and Illinois State Police have enforced. Hundreds of impatient drivers heading through work zones have learned firsthand the meaning of troopers’ zero-tolerance policy.

Since last July,state police have handed out nearly 1,700 tickets and more than 2,100 written warnings,with as many as four troopers patrolling work zones at any given time.

The stepped-up patrols are meant to protect motorists as much as laborers on the roadside. No major injuries among workers have been reported and only one accident involving a contractor ’s truck has occurred,according to IDOT.

A majority of the 76 commuter accidents in work zones since the beginning of 2004 also did not involve injuries, according to police, who along with other emergency personnel have had their own difficulties navigating constantly changing construction sites.

Maneuvering 50-foot-long ladder trucks through lane reductions has forced Peoria firefighters to sometime manually move barricades as they respond to calls.As a result, response time for firefighters at Peoria ’s Central House on Monroe Street has increased by 30 seconds to a minute on some rush-hour calls. Paramedics also report a slight increase in their response times.

Trying to keep confusion to a minimum among emergency responders and commuters is a network of IDOT engineers and consultants, headed by Upgrade 74 spokeswoman Beth Mosher.

IDOT has implemented an Intelligent Transportation System that includes 30 message boards and cameras along the interstate.The boards notify drivers of possible delays, while cameras give emergency dispatchers a firsthand view of highway congestion.

1) New westbound exit ramp provides two lanes to northbound Sterling Avenue (at Northwoods Mall) and one to southbound Sterling.

2) New westbound entrance ramp from Sterling.

3) New eastbound entrance ramp from Sterling.

4) New eastbound exit ramp to Sterling.

5) Sterling expands to six lanes, not counting turn lanes,over rebuilt bridge.