IDOT must hear our concerns

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By Dave Bell

A month ago in this space, we urged area citizens to provide more input to the Illinois Department of Transportation about the agency’s proposed routes for a western bypass for U.S. Route 51.

Previous public meetings had drawn only modest participation, and we didn’t feel that IDOT officials were hearing enough from us.

Last week, however, at a follow-up meeting just for residents of Vandalia’s northern neighborhoods, the highway engineers got an earful.

It was heartening to see the turnout – more than 100 citizens – and it was encouraging to hear them passionately defend the quality of life in their neighborhoods. The engineers bristled at some of the pointed comments, but we’re hoping that they got the message that they should look at alternative routes that have less impact on residential areas.

At issue is the route the bypass will take through the residential areas along Thrill Hill Road, Zent Drive and Airport Road.

We’re an interstate community. People bargained for a little noise when they bought or built housing within a couple miles of I-70. But no one could’ve imagined a divided highway running within the length of a couple football fields of their homes, as will happen to many residents along Zent Drive and Airport Road.

This is our community, and we must not allow IDOT to force a route on us that we don’t like – or one that actually does harm to our community.

This four-laning project is designed with two major purposes in mind. IDOT's words are continuity and connectivity. One is to complete an efficient north-south highway in the middle of the state (continuity). The other is to enhance commerce by the growth of businesses along the route – including the bypass areas (connectivity).

Are there other routes for the bypass that would accomplish the same goals? What about the one suggested by several people at last week’s meeting – one that would parallel I-70 as it skirts the north end of the community and then curves south after it gets past the western interchange? It would require some reworking of traffic lanes getting on and off of I-70, but its impact would be much less damaging if located alongside the existing interstate rather than intruding into an established residential area. Others mentioned an eastern bypass, but that has problems with building in a flood plain, IDOT officials said.

We must keep the conversation going. And IDOT must prove itself to be a good listener.