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Engineer says Route 51 study will take four years

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

A large group of Fayette County residents turned out last Thursday afternoon to find out the possible path for four-lane expansion of U.S. Route 51 through the county. What they found out is that they can play a part in making that determination.

Jerry Payonk of Clark Dietz Engineers, one of the consulting firms working with the Illinois Department of Transportation on the Route 51 expansion project, told that crowd at the Kaskaskia College Vandalia Campus that the public meeting was being held to introduce the U.S. 51 Environmental Impact Statement Project.

In simple terms, that means that IDOT is beginning an engineering study that will "determine where it should go along this entire stretch," Payonk. That "stretch": runs from the southern border of Christian County (just south of Pana) to Interstate 64 at Centralia.

"One of the primary reasons you are here today is because we want you to attend future meetings as advisory group members, to help us determine where this project should go," Payonk said.

He said that studies regarding expansion of Route 51 have been ongoing since the 1970s, and that a planning study performed in 1987 recommended that the highway be expanded to four lanes between Decatur and I-64.

At this point, the four-lane expansion south of Decatur has been completed north of Assumption.

As far as the expansion in the Vandalia area, Payonk said there appear to be three options.

"Will it go through the historic district (the current path of Route 51)? Well, that might be kind of hard to do for four lanes," Payonk said. Other options are going to either the west or the east.

"There have been no lines on paper yet," he said. "We want you to help us determine where that will be."

Payonk invited local residents to serve on either a regional group that will consider the entire expansion area or on one of the citizen advisory groups that will be formed for each community along the project area.

He said that IDOT is expecting the feasibility study to completed within four years.

"At that time, we will move forward, potentially, with the construction plans," Payonk said.