CHAMPAIGN – While area officials gathered public comment on the proposed Olympian Drive project on Wednesday night, one thing was clear: There still is very little consensus on any aspect of the road planned to transect north Champaign and Urbana.
Urbana city officials and the consultants they have hired displayed timelines and maps of the proposed road and its supposed economic benefits, while skeptics handed out fliers discussing the need for an independent study of whether the project should move forward.
"We'd like them to give us a good reason for the road," said Billy Ziegler, whose family since 1865 has owned a farm that could be bisected by Olympian Drive.
Design options continue to evolve as the city of Urbana continues its public engagement period, but the Champaign County Board will need to back the road if crews are to break ground.
Bill Gray, Urbana's public works director, said the input from a series of meetings with stakeholders and open houses like Wednesday's will be incorporated into the final design, which could be completed next year.
"People certainly are, when they walk in the door, very much in favor or very much against" Olympian Drive, Gray said.
Wednesday's open house presented options for the routes of Olympian Drive and an extension of North Lincoln Avenue to intersect Olympian in Urbana. Attendees also were shown different designs for medians, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and roundabouts and later were asked to write down their preferences.
But Laura Huth, a consultant who has been liaison to government officials on behalf of Ziegler and a group of his neighbors, said it is "far too premature to be talking about" those options. First, she said, city officials should complete a demand study to prove Olympian Drive is necessary.
Gray, on the other hand, said evidence is already there in a battery of plans and studies that have for years documented a need for the road. He said more recent documents have confirmed the theory that the road, as a more convenient transportation link between Interstate 57 and U.S. 45, would attract businesses to the area, bringing jobs for residents and more tax revenue for government agencies.
"What they're asking for is other, human-type factors not in the typical course of a road study," Gray said.
The Champaign County Board has wrestled with the issue but has never taken a formal vote. Board member Brendan McGinty attended Wednesday night's open house to update himself on any new design options.
"The lack of good information can cause this thing to die," McGinty said. "I don't want to see that happen."
The county board is locked on a number of issues, he said, but generally want planners to prove that Olympian Drive is necessary, that it is an affordable project and that it will not affect landowners in northern Champaign-Urbana.
"If you do that, it's a slam dunk," McGinty said.