Olympian Drive rail overpass closer to state OK

Olympian Drive rail overpass closer to state OK

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois Commerce Commission official has given preliminary approval to a plan to use approximately $8 million in Grade Crossing Protection Fund money to build a bridge over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks, advancing the controversial Olympian Drive project.

Final approval by the five-member commerce commission could come Feb. 20, and local officials hope to begin work on the project later this year.

The project, which would create an east-west link between Interstate 57 and Lincoln Avenue about 2 miles north of Interstate 74, has been under local discussion for more than 15 years. It is designed to offer a more direct route for automobile and truck traffic between Interstate 57 and an industrial-zoned area along Lincoln Avenue north of Urbana.

The city of Champaign already has built its portion of the project, a segment from Interstate 57 to Apollo Drive. The next stage, about 1.1 miles from Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, is the responsibility of the city of Urbana despite being in Champaign County.

"This has been a long time coming," said Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue. "We're hopeful we're going to get a good order from the commission."

Once the order is entered, he said, "the money is set aside for the project. It's our hope that we would bid this yet this spring and begin construction in the summer."

Testimony presented to the ICC said that if the project was bid this spring it could be completed in 2016.

Improvements to Lincoln Avenue between Olympian and Bradley avenues are slated for 2016. Eventually Urbana officials hope to extend Olympian farther east to U.S. 45.

The proposed bridge would be two lanes and cross a point at IC milepost 124.7, where the railroad has five sets of tracks. The concrete and steel bridge would be about 270 feet long, although the distance from "touchdown to touchdown" on the east and west embankments would be 3,330 feet.

A 1997 study by the Illinois Department of Transportation determined that the crossing should be grade-separated because of traffic from the IC rail yard north of Champaign.

"A bridge will eliminate any conflict between vehicular and pedestrian traffic and train movements that would exist at an at-grade crossing," wrote Timothy E. Duggan, the ICC's administrative law judge for the case. "The grade separation will increase both safety and emergency access to the entire area, and serve not only residents but all vehicular and pedestrian traffic using Olympian Drive."

Duggan said there are approximately 25 freight trains and six passenger trains daily that move along the stretch of track where the bridge would be located.

Traffic over the bridge in 2015 is projected at 1,800 vehicles a day.

A group of 27 landowners and residents, known as Preserve Olympian Farmland, intervened in the case as opponents to the project.

Duggan wrote that the opponents "presented no evidence that would suggest any reason not to order the allocation and (Grade Crossing Protection Fund) contribution requested."

"In order to complete a connection from the existing Olympian Drive to Route 45 it is necessary to cross the tracks. Intervenor does not challenge that a grade separation is a safer method of crossing tracks and allows traffic to cross even when a train is on the tracks at the point of the crossing," Duggan wrote. "Intervenor's own proffered expert acknowledged that a grade separation was preferable to an at-grade crossing. The necessity to cross the tracks to complete a connecting route is obvious and the bridge is the preferred method of crossing."

Three Champaign County Board members — Republicans Stan James and Diane Michaels, along with Democrat Pattsi Petrie — late last month wrote to the commerce commission about the funding of the project. They noted that the board approved an intergovernmental agreement that said the county wouldn't pay any of the costs of the project, but noted that a document filed with the ICC said that the county would contribute $177,198.

Blue, the county engineer, said the county contribution was an indication of the amount of staff time that would be devoted to the project.

"What that money is in there for is to cover staff time for project costs, whether it be construction engineering, overseeing construction during the project, and what have you," he said. "It's not going to pay for any concrete, asphalt or steel. It's just our estimate of if we were out on the project, overseeing construction."

James said he doesn't believe any county funds should go to the project.

"In my mind, if you're doing oversight, who's paying those salaries? If we're paying those salaries, that's county money being spent on the project," said the Rantoul area Republican. "In my mind here, something's not right. But that's me. Government turns in funny ways and if it goes through it goes through. I don't see how anyone gets the authority to put that figure down without getting approval.

"Just take a look around at all of our roads. We're building a new road here, and I know there are funding sources. But we should be putting money into our existing roads instead of worrying about putting in a new road.'

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billbtri5 wrote on February 05, 2014 at 8:02 am

thank you Stan...

parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on February 05, 2014 at 9:02 am

biased reporting by the gazette who want to deliver their newspapers by driving across the tracks and not having drive all the way around 74 to make it to Rantoul; the quotes from the judge are a small misrepresented amount of the dialogue; the 177,000 to pay for each of the "supervisors" has never been approved.  There is no  preliminary approval by the ICC;  it is just the judge's dialogue taken out of the context of the hearings and printed herein and labeled that way; false reporting.


Dan Corkery wrote on February 05, 2014 at 10:02 am
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Thank you for your comments.

Please note that The News-Gazette is printed in downtown Champaign and not at the Apollo industrial subdivision.

Dan Corkery

The News-Gazette

managing editor for administration

Tom Kacich wrote on February 05, 2014 at 10:02 am
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Here is the link to the proposed order by the administrative law judge who has been hearing the case for more than two years. It's the order the commerce commission will consider later this month.



parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on February 05, 2014 at 6:02 pm

The commerce commision considers everything--not what you have reported as being the "proposed" order.  Anyone who has read your article would do well to read ALL THE FACTS in all the testimony instead of the judge's summary twisted into supporting your article and making the outome sound like it is a done deal.  Not true.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 05, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Another whim of Urbana's that others pay for while their county roads are neglected.  What about prioritizing needs?  What about Windsor Road?  The county, and the state are supposed to bail Urbana out on that also?  Travel on Urbana's Windsor Road is obvious.  From Rt. 130 to the Champaign city limit there is poor snow, and ice removal plus the axle breaking potholes.  At the very least; Urbana could remove the snow, and ice.  If anything, the county should spend money maintaining the rural roads around Urbana so it can be avoided.

Orbiter wrote on February 05, 2014 at 6:02 pm

"The city of Champaign already has built its portion of the project.... The next stage... is the responsibility of the city of Urbana despite being in Champaign County."

It's puzzling.  I don't understand why being in Champaign County is in conflict with the City of Urbana building a part of the project, just as the City of Champaign has.  The Champaign County seat IS Urbana, after all.  That's why the courthouse is there, etc.  So why does the story say "despite"?


Also, the captcha is not displaying on my Mac Safari browser. It's okay on Firefox. Not sure what the problem is. IMO, after logging in, captchas shouldn't be necessary anyway.

Tom Kacich wrote on February 06, 2014 at 8:02 am
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The project location is outside of Urbana, in an unincorporated area that is within the county's jurisdiction.

But it is being paid for, in part, with Urbana funds.

None of the county's motor fuel tax funds will go to the project. This is not a county project.

That's why the distinction.






Sid Saltfork wrote on February 06, 2014 at 11:02 am

Thank you for the clarification on the county's role.  The "in part" is involved in all of Urbana's projects.  Someone somewhere other than Urbana is always paying the "in part" for Urbana. 

Orbiter wrote on February 07, 2014 at 9:02 am

Thank you for the explanation. I didn't realize this was outside city limits.