County may seek staff-time repayment on Olympian Drive
URBANA — Champaign County may seek reimbursement for the staff time it puts into the Olympian Drive construction project, members of the county board's highway committee were told Friday.
Although the county isn't paying any construction costs for the estimated $15 million project, County Engineer Jeff Blue said construction engineering costs could amount to as much as $177,000, and he believes county representatives should be on-site.
The controversial project, which has been under discussion for more than 15 years, could get approval later this month when the Illinois Commerce Commission votes on spending about $8 million for a bridge that would carry Olympian over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks north of Champaign-Urbana. Officials hope to begin construction of the bridge and about a mile of road later this year. The city of Champaign already has built its portion of the project. The road would create an east-west link between Interstate 57 and Lincoln Avenue.
"I believe it's in our best interest to make sure we're out there and overseeing to make sure commitments we made are honored," Blue said. "If we're not and they're not honored, it could be a very big black eye on me, which comes back to the county board. That's not what I think we want to happen."
Commitments, Blue said, include pledges to landowners along the route that their land would be protected as much as possible.
"We purchased enough right of way through the Olympian Drive corridor to build four lanes eventually. There is an agreement that we're only going to build two lanes at the current time and that the construction equipment and the work that happens within those two lanes is going to be within a certain footprint of the right of way that was purchased. The remainder of the right of way will remain in agricultural production," Blue said.
Further, he said, there's an agreement that equipment and contractors will "stay off a certain portion of the property even during the construction of two lanes."
County board member Chris Alix, an Urbana Democrat, said Blue made "a compelling argument for why the county needs to continue to be involved in this. The landowners out there are in the middle of a city of Urbana project but they're not residents of the city of Urbana. I think someone needs to be involved to make sure their interests are protected."
The county highway department staff time became an issue after three county board members sent a letter to an Illinois Commerce Commission administrative law judge noting that the county board had not approved construction spending on the project.
Board member Diane Michaels, a Rantoul Republican who was among those who had signed the letter, said she was "surprised" at the amount set aside for county spending.
"I want to make sure that we get something back and that we have a way of being reimbursed that is fairly reasonable," she said Friday. "That's a big chunk of money when we need to fix roads and bridges out in other areas."
Blue said the county's request for reimbursement is contingent on the amount of time devoted to the project.
"It depends how much we need to be out there, whether or not we have the staff availability to be out there. If the project were to begin in June or July or if it were to begin September or October, that's going to determine if were going to have staff to put out there or not," he said.
"In all likelihood," he added, "I don't think it will total up to $177,000."
Also Friday, highway committee members learned the county soon may make a $550,000 payment to the city of Urbana for its share of the South Philo Road project completed in 2012.
County officials originally were told that they couldn't use state motor fuel tax money on a project that does not use federal aid funds. But an October memorandum from the Illinois Department of Transportation said otherwise.
Blue also had bad budget news: the county highway department already has exhausted its $50,000 overtime budget — with 11 months remaining in the fiscal year — and most of its road salt supply because of the frequent storms this winter.
"We're going to do the best we can with the resources we have, but roads might not be as good as they have been," he warned.
The highway department may limit its road salt use to intersections only, he said.