CHAMPAIGN – For residents of central Champaign, summer 2006 likely will be remembered for the multiple road construction projects under way.
For the most part, residents of Green, John and Healey streets – all of which are under construction east of Prospect Avenue – are pleased to see their streets being improved. They say they're willing to put up with construction inconveniences like noise, dust and parking on side streets.
But one issue is causing some anger.
Several residents of Healey Street are questioning why the city is replacing all the driveway approaches along Green Street between New and Neil streets at city expense, when they are being told the city isn't responsible for replacing their own crumbling driveway approaches.
Kit Condill recently moved into his older brick home at 707 W. Healey St. He can't believe the city isn't replacing his driveway approach, half of which is noticeably sunken.
"We scrape our car every time we go out," Condill said. "It's on the city right of way. We presume they paved it at some point in the past.
"I don't think it's fair some people get a nice new approach to their driveway and other people don't. It's the city's responsibility to provide us with safe and adequate access to our property."
Condill said he asked the city contractor how much it would cost him for a new driveway approach, and he was quoted a price of $3,000. He declined.
Along Healey, a brick street being partially improved between New Street and Prospect Avenue, only two driveway approaches are marked to be entirely replaced. Some are being partially improved for a few feet to repair damage caused by the construction, and several others are slated for no improvement at all.
The work on Healey Street is targeting deteriorated sections of curbs, sidewalks and portions of the brick street itself.
Jim and Carrie Duncker of 809 W. Healey St. also said the city should replace their heavily cracked and uneven driveway approach.
"The fact that it's included in that project (along Green Street) and not this doesn't seem fair," Carrie Duncker said.
Paul Littleton of 704 W. Healey St. also has a badly cracked and sunken driveway approach. He said he initially was told his driveway would be replaced but now has learned it won't be.
"I'm puzzled," he said.
Champaign City Engineer Steve Wegman said the difference in treatment between Green and Healey streets relates to the nature of the projects.
Not replacing driveway approaches on the city right of way is the general city policy, he said, unless a city construction project damages the driveway approach, in which case only the damaged area will be replaced.
"The thinking is the driveway entrance is for the benefit of the individual homeowner," he said. "It is a money issue. You can go a lot further down the street if you don't have to replace all the driveways on the street."
Along West Green Street, all the curbing is being replaced, and the replacement work tore up the driveway approaches, Wegman said. The asphalt overlay work also will change the elevation of the street, he said.
"You pretty much have to replace (the driveway approaches), or you leave the people with a big bump," Wegman said.
In the case of the two Healey driveway approaches being entirely replaced, the city was replacing both the sidewalk and the curb and gutter and damaging both ends of the approach. The city's thinking was it would be best to replace the whole driveway approach in these two instances.
Urbana Public Works Director William Gray said Urbana's policy on replacing driveway approaches is similar to Champaign's.
"I'd love to do them all," Gray said. "It is a money issue."
Aside from the questions about driveway approaches, most residents seem happy about the improvements under way.
Patricia Brady, who lives at 701 W. Healey St., with husband Dan Kuchma, said the construction work is a source of endless fascination for their two young boys.
"I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, and as far as they're concerned, this is the best thing that ever happened," she said.
On Green Street, residents are thrilled to have crumbling curbs, driveway approaches and some sidewalk areas being replaced. On both Green and Healey, new sidewalk accessibility ramps are being installed at most corners.
"I think it's wonderful what they're doing," said Mary Finney, 612 W. Green. "The curbs have been so bad for so long. And the new driveway approaches! It's going to look great."
Neighbor Cheri Carlson, 610 W. Green, said the project will make the entire neighborhood look better. But living with construction for an extended period does entail some sacrifices.
"You have to keep your windows shut," Carlson said. "There's a lot of dust."
Biggest city tree treated with care
The biggest tree in Champaign is getting special treatment during the Green Street construction project this summer.
The majestic hackberry tree, on the north side of Green Street just west of Lynn Street, has a trunk diameter of 64 inches and occupies virtually the entire parkway.
The tree stands about 85 feet tall and is probably more than 100 years old, according to Bill Vander Weit, Champaign's forestry supervisor.
"This is, in terms of diameter, the biggest tree we have," he said. "It's a big 'un."
A silver maple with a 71-inch trunk diameter resides at 1707 W. White St., but that tree has multiple trunks, so Vander Weit counts the Green Street hackberry as the city's big-gest.
Champaign keeps an inventory of the 19,912 trees on city property.
To make sure the hackberry survives during the Green Street construction project, the city has decided not to replace the curb or the sidewalk in the area near the tree.
"We just don't want to get into the tree," Vander Weit said. "Older trees don't respond well to disturbances. Younger trees do better."
Vander Weit said the hackberry is a native tree of the elm family that some people consider to be a weed tree.
He said he has more respect than that for the species, though the hackberry is prone to V-shaped branches that can split off during a heavy storm.
"It's a tough tree," he said. "It's a good urban tree. A street tree, it's a little tougher to grow on (the parkway).
"There's salt, a lot of compaction and they can be damaged by a car."
Vander Weit said he would guess the tree is more than a century old.
The Champaign Park District removed some smaller hackberry trees at Davidson Park a while back, and those trees were more than 100 years old.
Despite its advanced age, the hackberry on Green Street is "remarkably healthy," he said.
"There's no dead wood. It's a beauty."