Route 51 project on to next step

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor



As the deadline for public comments nears, the Illinois Department of Transportation is preparing to select the routes for four-lane expansion of U.S. Route 51 through this area.


The agency held informal public meetings in Ramsey, Vandalia and Patoka last week in order to receive comments from area residents on the proposed route alternatives in the three communities, and it will continue taking comments through April 21.

Jerry Payonk of Clark Dietz Engineers, one of the consulting firms working with the Illinois Department of Transportation on the Route 51 expansion project, said at the Vandalia meeting that after the deadline for comments that IDOT will then proceed with the next step of the project.

“When we get all of that information collected, we will sort it out and review it, and IDOT will come to a conclusion on what the preferred alternative should be for those three communities,” Payonk said.

“There are three areas where we still haven’t pinned down the final alternative. One, of course, is Vandalia, and then there’s also Ramsey and Sandoval,” he said.

“Vandalia has been tough since day one,” Payonk said. “You’ve got the lake, you’ve got the river, you’ve got the interstate, you’ve got the airport, you’ve got the state farm (prison) – you name it,” he said.

Once IDOT submits its recommendation on the preferred route alternatives to the Federal Highway Administration, Payonk said, “there’s a back-and-forth review.

“The feds make these decisions three times a year, the next one is in September. So, hopefully, in September, the FHA will come to the conclusion, “We concur with the preferred alternative(s) you have selected.”

But the FHA isn’t the only one involved in the process, he said.

Other agencies having input include the state and federal levels of the Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Agriculture and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“If someone doesn’t agree (with the preferred alternative), the feds will say, ‘You’re not brining up a strong enough case’ or they will say, ‘IDOT, you need to go back to the drawing board, you need to come up with something else.’

“We don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Payonk said.

At this point, the four-lane expansion of Route 51 is completed southward from Decatur to just north of Assumption.

Work is currently underway on the construction of new road surfaces to the S-curve north of Pana.