County board Dems tangle over I-57/74 interchange work

County board Dems tangle over I-57/74 interchange work

URBANA — Some Democrats on the Champaign County Board are feuding over whether county board chair Alan Kurtz's campaign to rebuild the Interstate 57/Interstate 74 interchange is hurting Gov. Pat Quinn and his Transportation Department.

Kurtz and fellow Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke tangled over the interchange reconstruction issue during a caucus of county board Democrats before Tuesday night's county board committee of the whole meeting.

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Kurtz has sent several letters in recent months to Quinn, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and other state and local officials, complaining that East Central Illinois is being shortchanged in highway funding and that the 57/74 interchange is unsafe.

In his most recent letter, dated Feb. 6, Kurtz wrote that "District 5 (headquartered in Paris) is lagging way behind in initiatives to fund larger corridor and/or interchange projects" and that "the I-57/74 interchange is one of the most dangerous intersections in Illinois."

Hartke, however, told the county board Democrats, "I don't think that the attacks being made on IDOT and the governor's office about how IDOT funding has been run are fair at all. I think they represent not just misconstrued numbers but a general misunderstanding about how the funding is done around there."

Hartke said that "in District 5, we have the second best interstate system around the state."

Hartke, who worked at the IDOT office in Paris from 2003 to 2006, said "I worked for those people for a long time. They are professional. They are engineers concerned with safety. They live in the communities that they serve so they're not going to be fiddling with political shenanigans regarding funding."

But Kurtz defended his letters to Quinn and IDOT, and said they weren't politically motivated.

"We have a serious safety problem here. It's well known by IDOT. I have not challenged them and I have not attacked the governor," he said. "I have sent him informational letters, asking for help in the highest prone accident interstate intersection in Illinois. They have acknowledged the fact that this is one of the most serious accident intersections in the state of Illinois, and they do not have this funded."

An informational meeting about long-range plans for the I-57/74 interchange is scheduled for 3 p.m. next Wednesday at the county highway department office, 1605 E. Main St., U.

"It seems to me that this project is going forward," added board member Michael Richards, a Champaign Democrat who works for the governor's office in Springfield. "We have a meeting on the 19th."

Kurtz, however, said IDOT has committed only construction engineering funding for the project, which has construction costs estimated as much as $130 million.

The News-Gazette reported earlier this month that there were 249 accidents at the interchange from 2007 through 2012, the greatest number of accidents along I-74 in Champaign-Urbana and 50 percent more than at the next highest, at Prospect Avenue.

Hartke and Richards contended local officials should support a new statewide capital bill and should push for more federal highway funding.

"I think we need to talk about not just attacking the governor and IDOT but we need to encourage any of the legislators in District 5, both federal and state, to push for some capital bills, either state highway bills or a federal transportation bill, rather than attacking a governor that we support during the middle of his election," Hartke said. "The attitude and the approach with the letters I think is failing this county."

"(Rep.) Chad Hays and (Sen.) Chapin Rose were in the paper talking about how bad that intersection is. (Rep.) Naomi Jakobsson and (Sen.) Mike Frerichs were in there. The question is, are you going to vote for a capital bill?" said Richards.

In a press release issued after the caucus, Hartke and Richards said Kurtz should "stop grandstanding" and "stop trying to get his name in the papers over the I-57/I-74 interchange reconstruction and start working constructively with IDOT and the Administration."

Kurtz said he "takes exception to Mister Hartke bringing politics into a public safety issue. Our letters have led to action. We now have the safety signs there and we're resurfacing in the spring the entrance and exit lanes" at the interchange.

Underlying the debate over the interchange is the upcoming primary election race between Kurtz and former county board chair C. Pius Weibel in District 7 in south Champaign. Richards and Hartke are supporting Weibel.

"To me this is about whether we work to have a cooperative relationship with IDOT and the governor's office," Hartke said. "But I think that if the sun rises tomorrow, Mister Kurtz will take credit for it."

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787 wrote on February 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

How about all of the democrats get together, have a great big group hug, and then apologize to each other, instead of doing what is right FOR THE PEOPLE OF THIS STATE.

I am sick and tired of politicians who work harder to protect and serve their party, than the do to SERVE THE PEOPLE OF ILLINOIS.  A perfect example of this is DICK DURBIN.  He represents the democrat party, and not the State of Illinois.

Yes, Mr. Hartke, you are a complete disgrace, and how you were successfully elected to the county board is a complete mystery.  Thanks for wanting to provide political cover for the governor and IDOT, instead of serving the people. 

jthartke wrote on February 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I want to be clear on this as it was a 10 minute discussion on several issues.

1. I support an interchange rebuild but it cannot be done through idot annual funding alone. Also the initial steps have been taken on engineering including appropriation of funds. This means the project is moving forward despite multiple claims to the contrary.

2. While we all want more money spent in our district, not every district gets equal funding every single year. It depends on road quality and need.

3. The extensive interstate rebuild done around Bloomington several years ago was money spent in district 4, but now those high quality roads are now in district 5. Mr Kurtz does not take the extensive district reorganization done while I was at IDOT into consideration in his numbers.

4. This is not about political cover. This is about building working relationships with all other governmental agencies and properly laying blame. For example, in his comments Mr. Kurtz claimed "that the governor controls the purse strings". Anyone with a basic knowledge of civics knows that it is the legislature that is imbued with the power of the purse.

5. I am all for fighting for more funding. The entire point of my comments was that I feel Mr. Kurtz is just bad at it. Antagonism, especially when your "facts" are flat out wrong, does not serve anyone.

Joe American wrote on February 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Mr. Kurtz generally seems to be the most common-sensed Democrat on the board, but this really has me scratching my head.  Reconstruct the entire 57/74 interchange at a cost well into the tens of millions of dollars because of a few wreciks by people who carelessly failed to reduce their speed? 

What a total disregard to the taxpayers of Illinois and a waste of their money.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on February 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm
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That's a HUGE understatement.  Having only 50-odd feet to merge in and out of traffic onto and from a busy interstate is extremely unsafe at any speed.

You might think that the extra 2 bucks you'll pay in taxes is worth more than the lives that would be saved by reconstructing the clover leaf, but the less cheapskate-ish among us will not have sympathy for you.

PEguy wrote on February 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm


This is a huge issue for anyone who has to drive by, through or around this intersection on a daily basis. If you ever drive through it regularly at rush hour, you would notice, it doesn't matter how defensive of driving you do it is DANGEROUS! You have can reduce your speed in the left lane and still have someone dive in front of you at the last second to avoid someone else diving in front of them. Its impossible to expect two major interstates to exit and enter at the same place in ONLY 2 lanes of traffic with a 70 MPH speed limit. Something has to be done SOON! Its a matter of saving lives that we know will be lost if it isn't fixed!

pattsi wrote on February 13, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I can tell that none of you have taken the challenge of driving on Texas highways and using those on and off ramps. What we have are luxurious related to distance available to merge.  :-)

I am not making an argument that we are ideal, just pointing out that other states offer greater challenges even when they have a lot of land to do otherwise.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm

For those who have turned off of I-72 West on to I-55 South on the edge of Springfield, it is the same problem as we have locally.  One thing that has been left out of the discussion is the changed attitude of the drivers over the years.  The speed limits have been increasingly ignored; and the courtesy of drivers in the right lane moving to the left lane allowing entry is disappearing.  The interstates were designed years ago to accomodate safe entry; but the drivers attitudes have changed.  Perhaps surveillance cameras with tickets would cut down on the accidents until funding for reconstruction is available would help.  Big signs indicating "Merge Into The Left Lane", and "Camera Surveillance" might help also.  Maybe, they are already there?  No perfect system can be designed without drivers' cooperation.  

The feud between Hartke, and Kurtz is meaningless when the entire state has the same problem.  Remember where the vast majority of people in Illinois live.  Downstate is only fighting over the scraps.  Campaign donations by contrators might help also.  It works in Chicago.

I am more concerned about the local two lanes, and the potholes; but I do not own a large business that uses the entries, and exits though.

bluegrass wrote on February 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm

the exchange between Kurtz and Hartke reminds me of this..