URBANA — State and local leaders stepped up the pressure on Illinois Department of Transportation representatives to expedite the renovation of the nearly 50-year-old Interstate 57-Interstate 74 interchange west of Champaign.
But the response they got Tuesday hasn't changed: without a new state construction program, a special federal appropriation or both, the project — with a total cost of more than $100 million — is many years away.
"I would love to have in the next year or so the actual appropriation for the actual work, for the construction in that area," said Champaign County Board Chairman Alan Kurtz, who has been pushing for the capital funding. "It's only going to get worse and we don't want to see any more fatalities or critical injuries."
IDOT officials have scheduled a hearing for Feb. 5 at the Champaign County Highway Department, where members of the public can review four or five design ideas for the conventional cloverleaf interchange that was built in 1965. It is now considered obsolete.
In the last five years there have been 335 accidents within a one-mile radius in each direction of the interchange.
IDOT officials say that I-57 carries an average of 33,600 vehicles per day — about 9,400 of which are trucks — within the project area. I-74 carries an average of 38,400 vehicles a day in the project area, 8,500 of which are trucks.
Local elected officials said the interchange is unsafe and needs to be rebuilt.
"Regardless of what legislative district that interchange is in, I literally say a little silent prayer every time I navigate that on my way to Springfield," said Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin. "It is poorly designed, way before everyone in this room's time. It is a major, major intersection in East Central Illinois. And the data that I've looked at indicates that it is very serious in terms of the number of accidents and fatalities.
"Getting on and off of that at a very high speed is nothing short of a death trap."
Kurtz said the newly increased speed limit on the two interstates makes the interchange even more dangerous.
"We just upped the speed limit to 70 and now we're going to have trucks and cars, where the volume is increasing year after year ... and you're getting off of 57 to go onto 74 to go into Champaign and it is probably the most nerve-wracking thing," he said.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said she'd "like to see the project moved forward. But as was discussed, it's nothing to be done tomorrow. Where are the funds going to come from? It's complicated."
A new state capital construction bill could provide funding, Jakobsson acknowledged, but she said the topic could get caught up in other budget issues this year.
"I know many of us believe that capital bills bring jobs, and jobs are important," she said. "On the other hand, we're looking at other things with the budget so I don't know if there's going to be a capital bill or not, but it certainly has to be talked up."
Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, called the project "a huge priority" in East Central Illinois.
"It is one of the most unsafe interchanges in the state, maybe in the entire Midwest," Rose said. "Every time you get an ice storm, somebody is off in a ditch."
But he said state taxpayers shouldn't have to pay the entire cost of the repairs. Rose suggested seeking federal funding for the project that Joseph Crowe, the IDOT engineer for District 5 in Paris, called a "megaproject" because of its cost.
In past years members of Congress could "earmark" money for such projects, but that practice was ended in 2010.
Andrew Flach, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, noted that the omnibus appropriations bill signed into law last week provided for an additional $600 million in federal TIGER grant funds — traditionally large grants awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a "significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region."
Rose said he was encouraged that some progress was being made on the project, although construction funding may be years away.
"Before you go start trying to find the funding mechanism you've got to have the plan and the engineering," he said. "That first step is exactly what is happening now, which is the engineering, looking at different designs. Then you start filing in the gaps with how you pay for that. I'm fully supportive of that concept."
Rose also urged IDOT to work with the city of Champaign to rehabilitate Mattis Avenue north of Springfield Avenue.
"It's torn to ... well, fill in the blank," he said of the roadway, which is a state route.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has scheduled a hearing for the public to review four or five design ideas for the Interstate 57-Interstate 74 interchange west of Champaign.
When: 3 p.m. on Feb. 5.
Where: Champaign County Highway Department, 1605 E. Main St., C.