New Route 51 maps presented at recent public hearings

The Illinois Department of Transportation is one step closer toward final four-lane corridors for U.S. Route 51 through Fayette County.

The proposed corridor alternatives were presented at recent public meetings in Vandalia, Patoka and Centralia. Those alternatives had changed only slightly since similar public meetings held in area communities last November.

“These will look very similar to what we presented last November,” said Jerry Payonk of Clark-Dietz Inc., a Champaign engineering firm working with IDOT on the expansion of Route 51 to four lanes from Decatur to the Centralia area.

“But there are a couple of subtle changes,” Payonk said.

Those changes, he said, were made after the Route 51 partners received environmental impact information.

The current project area of the Route 51 expansion is the 65-70-mile section between the Christian County line south of Pana to Irvington.

Throughout the process of developing the final corridors either in or around communities along Route 51, Payonk said, residents of those communities have been involved in the decision-making process.

The Route 51 partnership has had meetings with advisory groups in each of the communities, as well as meetings like the one held at the Kaskaskia College Vandalia Campus recently at which all area residents can submit comments.

“Ninety-five percent of the corridors we probably looked at were developed by your communities,” Payonk said.

“Your own communities came up with these ideas,” he said.

In developing the corridors, “We could look at a bypass five or 10 miles to the east or to the west (of a community), so far out that people aren’t going to use it. They’re still going to travel through these towns,” Payonk said.

The maps presented at recent public meetings reflect changes made because of environmental impacts.

One of the areas where there are significant impacts is at Vandalia.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Payonk said, recognized that a four-lane Route 51 could not be built in the Vandalia area without having impacts on wetlands.

“The DNR and Corps of Engineers said, ‘We know that you can’t completely avoid impacts, but we want to see that you are minimizing them.’”

Vandalia is unique among the communities being studied, Payonk said, because it has an interstate highway (Interstate 70) running through it.

He also noted a geological area northwest of town that earlier ruled out a corridor in that area. Now, Payonk said, other agencies said the highway could go through that area as long as “we trim it or not get too deeply into it.”

The Thrill Hill Road area, he said, was “not favored too much because there are a lot of residences in that area.

“This whole area is the most challenging area in the entire 70 miles of the study, because there are a lot of residences there,” he said.

“We found an opportunity to kind of dance through a lot of these residences and minimize the impact to the area,” Payonk said.

Talking about the Route 51 bypass at Ramsey, Payonk said, “If you go through Ramsey, you’d wipe out a lot of (the town),” he said.

The maps shown at the recent public meetings are being forwarded onto various agencies – including the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency, IDNR and the Corps of Engineers – “for concurrence,” he said.

“If we get concurrence, we can start moving into the actual draft and environmental impact statement,” Payonk said. “That will be the final determination (of corridors).”

He said the final draft should be available in 2012.

That’s a ways off, Payonk said, “but you have to look at a lot of back-and-forth (discussions) between agencies, and any adjustments that have to be made.

“In the spring of 2013, we look for final approval, he said.


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