Tom's #Mailbag, June 24, 2016

Tom's #Mailbag, June 24, 2016

Got a question for Tom? Ask it here

Lots of transportation-related questions in the 'bag this week, along with some local history.

Readers wanted to know about street signs, street sign misspellings, stop lights, road pavement and a county road that needs work. They also wanted to know about mysterious stones, a giant mysterious rock, mug shot sheets, doggie waste bags and whether there is any history of merger attempts in Champaign-Urbana. There is.

Merge Champaign and Urbana?

"Has there ever been serious talk of merging the cities of Urbana and Champaign? No doubt there are considerable duplication of services, and it seems there might be a lot to gain by joining the cities to make them both more efficient."

Almost from the beginning someone wanted to join the towns. In 1865 — five years after Champaign was organized — the Champaign County Gazette wrote, "If the towns were only united, in feeling and effort, they could exercise a great influence, not only in the county but the state."

Various mayors, visitors and University of Illinois officials have through the years wondered why the towns never merged. In 1908, a group of civic leaders met to discuss a plan that would link the two and call the new town "Illinois City." Nothing came of the idea.

Twice, the idea got enough momentum to put it to a referendum and twice the idea was trounced.

It got less than 30 percent in a 1953 vote (losing by similar margins in both cities).

In November 1980 it did slightly better, losing with 40 percent of the vote in Champaign and 31 percent in Urbana.

The idea is rarely mentioned today.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity to link the cities came in 1948, when a proposal to merge the Champaign and Urbana school districts failed — defeated by rural residents. Voters in both Champaign and Urbana supported merging the two school districts but the measure lost in rural areas, 448 to 314. The proposition had to carry in both urban and rural sections to be approved.

Had the school districts been joined it's possible the two cities might have followed.

Big rock

"What do you know about the origin and history of the Sadorus Rock?"

I knew nothing until your question.

The big rock now sits outside Sadorus Park with the inscription: "In memory of Henry Sadorus/First white settler in Champaign County/March 7, 1824"

According to a series of photographs taken by Frank Sadorus and now in possession of the Illinois State Museum (, the rock had been located in a grove on the 104-acre Sadorus farm east of town.

A photo and caption in the old Decatur Daily Review said that the "Pioneer Rock" was to be dedicated that day — Oct. 30, 1932 — to Henry Sadorus, for whom the village is named.

Apparently some time after 1910 the rock was moved from the grove to its current home.

Henry Sadorus was born in 1783 and in 1824 built a cabin at the head of the Okaw River in the area that became known as Sadorus Grove.

Road work needed

"Tom, if there's one piece of road in the county that needs attention, it's County Road 1000N from Illinois 130 into Sidney. This week I was biking into Sidney at a busy time of day, and I watched an inattentive motorist move too far into the opposing lane to pass me, nearly killing themselves, the truck driver in the opposing lane that ran fully off the road and myself. I've had more incidents on that stretch of road than anywhere else in the county. The shoulder isn't just non-existent, there's a 4-inch drop-off that would send a biker somersaulting down the ditch if they went over that edge. And the lanes are much too narrow for the busy traffic heading to Sidney and Homer.

"Drivers like to think us road-bikers can take other roads, but deserted country roads are deserted because the pavement is brutal on cars; and if it's brutal on cars, it's worse on bikes and the bikers on them. People need to be able to bike home safely, and County Road 1000N needs to be updated to keep up with the traffic on it.

"Who do people write or call to ask that this road receive more attention and county dollars?"

Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue — the man who runs the county highway department — says to call him at 384-3800.

"The road he is inquiring about was transferred from IDOT to the county about 13 years ago," said Blue. "It is narrow and we have a tough time keeping the shoulders up due to the heavy agricultural equipment that uses the road and rides along the shoulder, particularly the westbound lane. Unfortunately we have many other roads on the county system that are worse that that one. With no motor fuel tax increase in over 20 years, inflation has really eaten away at our buying power for road construction and maintenance."

Mug shot sheets

"As a relatively new resident to C-U, I love the mailbag and use it to show my knowledge of local events, institutions and landmarks in the area. One thing I've struggled with is the booking photos published by The News-Gazette. Why do those booked into the Champaign County Correctional Center always wear a sheet or gown in the booking photos (recently, it is blue instead of white)? Why does the jail use this and why the change from white to blue?"

This question first came up more than two years ago ( when Sheriff Dan Walsh explained that the sheet "helps with uniformity. In a later photo line-up we want the witness to identify based on the physical features, not clothing.

"If we are looking at a suspect white male, 50s, gray hair, we prefer, when possible, that all six shown have those identifiers and one with a bright red shirt, for example, does not stand out."

As for the recent change to a blue sheet, Chief Deputy Allen Jones offers this explanation:

"Captain Karee Voges tells me that the 'white' sheet was actually a badly faded blue gown faded due to frequent washing. The old ones were falling apart so she ordered three new gowns, which are truly blue."

Mystery sign in Villa Grove
“At Paul’s Welding & Machine in Villa Grove, there is a large red ‘0.74’ sign right along Route 130. Nobody I’ve asked seems to know what it means, but we’re all quite curious. Can you get to the bottom of this mystery for us?”
That number, says Jon McNussen, is the company’s experience modification rating target.
It also is last year’s rating for the 64-employee plant on the north side of Villa Grove, said McNussen, the firm’s environmental health and safety director. The number was posted around Christmas last year, he said.
0.74 is a good score, an indication of an unusually safe working environment, said McNussen.
This year’s rating isn’t as good, he acknowledged, but it’s still considered better than average.
“We’re proud of our company and our employees’ safe work habits,” he said.

Inconsistent street signs

"I've been wondering why the street signs at the corner of Hill and Prospect in Champaign don't match exactly. One sign reads 'Hill' in title case. The other sign reads 'HILL' in all caps.

"Do you know what's up with that?"

Kris Koester, public information officer for Champaign's public works department, explained that the city's street sign policy is dictated the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

"According to section 2D.43 of the MUTCD, 'Street Name signs shall be in mixed-case lettering with the first letter in upper-case followed by lower-case letters,'" he wrote. "The current practice for public works staff is to only change signs to comply with the new standard when the sign is replaced. In this case, only one set of the signs needed replaced.

"According to the MUTCD, the change to the standard to use mixed case is because mixed-case lettering provides for longer recognition distances than all upper-case lettering when searching for a known word. The combination of ascending and descending strokes of the lower-case letters allows the known word to be recognized earlier."

Abrupt road change

"West of Bradley Avenue, there is a really nice asphalt road starting near the (Illinois American) water facility plant, which goes west all the way to Route 47. Well, somewhere just west of the Bondville Road there was about a mile stretch that someone decided to ruin the road putting an oil/rock mixture on this smooth road. Can you find out if a township or county made this ridiculous decision? Thanks for your time and research."

Jeff Sebens, the Scott Township road commissioner, said he repaired County Road 1700 North "a couple of weeks ago when I oil-and-chipped all my other roads."

Sebens said the original surface, put down about eight years ago, had problems for about a quarter-mile segment west of the water plant.

"When they built the road they did a crappy job on it and I had to go in there and oil-and-chip it to get the cracks sealed up. They didn't do a good enough job when they built the road," he said. "Right in that area they didn't get the base worth a darn and water was just coming up from the underneath up to the top and it caused it to crack real bad.

"I had to do something with it because townships don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to tear it up and put new in there. That was the solution."

He said his solution cost "about $5,000. It's better than the alternative. If I'd had to tear it out and put new in it would probably have been about a hundred (thousand)."

Misspelled street sign

"The people who can't spell at IDOT District 5 in Paris, are at it again. Signs have been installed at U.S. 45 and Tomaras Avenue in Savoy which have been printed as 'Tamaras Ave.' When will someone at District 5 in Paris start double checking what they have printed on these signs? They waste money by printing and installing signs that are not correct, and then have to re-print and re-install a second set of signs. Apparently District 5 has money in their budget, to throw away like this."

They will be changed

Levi Kopmann, the director of public works for the village of Savoy, said the "signs in question are located overhead on Route 45, as part of the signage that is used to warn motorists of access to the roadway by the village's fire department. While these signs are not necessarily 'street signs,' they do provide direction for residents, businesses and package delivery.

"The signs are replaced and maintained by IDOT, and the village will be asking IDOT to replace these signs so that they match with the actual street designations."

Mystery stones

"Attached are photos of what appear to be pieces of a discarded, disassembled monument. The pieces have been laying in the same place for at least the last 10 years if not more.

"I've often wondered what its story is. What was its original purpose? Are there any plans to use those pieces for something else and is any of it for sale? Can you help?"

The stone pieces are along a gravel road east of Lincoln Avenue and south of the Japan House.

"Those pieces were rescued by a Japan House volunteer from a demolition project in another part of campus," said Diane Anderson, an arboretum horticulturalist at the UI. "They are periodically used on projects around the arboretum. They are not for sale."

Anderson said she's been familiar with that area for 15 years and the stones have been there that long. She said she doesn't know where they cam from.

Failure to appear

"A quick perusal of the mugshot section of the on-line News-Gazette or the university's police blotter shows numerous arrests for FTA (failure to appear). In fact, on the UI Police blotter, these arrests seem to represent 50 percent or more of the listings. Has Failure To Appear become more common lately? How big of a problem is this? What percentage of locally written citations/arrests are for this offense? Is this worse or better than in past years?"

The number of arrests for failure to appear actually is down from 10 years ago, according to figures provided by Allen Jones, chief deputy of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.

So far this year there have been 333 FTA arrests, compared with 1,175 in 2006.

Only 333 of 2,679 independent bookings at the jail this year are for FTAs, he said.

"If anyone is arrested for Failure to Appear, it is generally based upon a warrant issued by a judge. In my experience, this could be due to a missed court date or even failure to complete any part of court order (fine, public service, etc.)," said Jones. "The chart below shows the 10-year details. Those listed as "City" are based upon FTA related to a city ordinance violation charge."

  City Civil Criminal Other County Traffic Total
2006 143 310 377 80 265 1,175
2007 210 287 309 134 212 1,152
2008 218 296 314 87 179 1,094
2009 229 258 288 73 280 1,128
2010 287 179 236 102 247 1,051
2011 363 229 230 115 232 1,169
2012 324 209 205 69 154 961
2013 308 89 218 66 167 848
2014 251 107 164 66 167 755
2015 306 95 173 52 123 749
2016 136 38 71 23 65 333
  2,775 2,097 2,585 867 2,091 10,415


Doggie bags

"Who pays for all the plastic dog waste bags at local parks? Does the park district have to do it or does some canine organization pick up the tab?"

Both park districts pay for them out of operating costs.

The Champaign Park District is responsible for the doggie waste bags in the parks, said Executive Director Joe DeLuce.

"Our operations staff developed a creative solution for dispensing the bags in the parks made from PVC piping. We spend about $6,500 per year on the waste bags," he said. "We do receive an annual donation to help cover the cost of the bags and if individuals want to help they can make a donation to our parks foundation. They can direct their donation to help purchase the bags."

DeLuce said that one individual gives the park district $100 a year to defray the cost of the waste bags.

In Urbana, said park district director Tim Bartlett, the district spends approximately $1,650 to provide dog waste bags at the Urbana Dog Park, Meadowbrook Park and Crystal Lake Park.

"Crystal Lake Park was added recently as a trial site — to see if visitors respond positively to using them in the park," he said. " A local family donated the cost of the post and dispenser at Crystal Lake Park — we really appreciate their support."

Fees from Dog Park pass sales support the cost of the bags at that location, he said.

"The bags we use are biodegradable — this helps the district and park visitors in case someone does not dispose of the bag properly," Bartlett said. "In the past, we have received complaints about dog owners not picking up dog waste at these key sites. We believe by providing the bags at key sites we reduce the number of complaint calls and limit the calls to staff for clean-up services. Due to vandalism, theft of bags and other misuses, the district intends to limit their use to our most critical sites at this time."

Long wait at light

"Early mornings I have sat at the stoplight on State Street and Springfield and seen the light change several times on State and Green before my traffic light changes so I can continue south on State Street. Is there a delay on this light or does there have to be more than one or two cars for it to change?"

Champaign Assistant City Engineer Chris Sokolowski has your answer:

"Before 7 a.m. the State and Springfield signal runs off of the vehicle detection, which is located in the pavement. It only takes one vehicle to tell the signal to change over to State Street. However, Springfield Avenue has priority over State Street since it is the busier of the two streets and if there are any vehicles on Springfield Avenue also telling the signal a vehicle is there, it will keep Springfield Avenue green up until a maximum allowed amount of time. As a result you may pull up to the signal but have to wait until there is either a pause in traffic on Springfield Avenue or the green light on Springfield reaches is maximum time.

"Meanwhile at that time of day the Green Street signal is going back and forth between Green Street and State Street automatically, changing about every 30 seconds. The Green Street signal does not have vehicle detection. Taking these two things into account you might see the signal at Green change once or twice while waiting at Springfield.

"After 7 a.m., when morning traffic starts to pick up, the two signals begin operating on the same cycle (the amount of time it takes to give each street its turn at a green light) and for every time Springfield changes to a green light, Green Street should change to a green light."


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pattsi wrote on June 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm

The 1980 referendum to merge the two communities--I was working on my urban planning masters at that time. The then department head, Mike Brooks, thought it made perfect sense to research why the previous referendum failed so we could create the best campaign to pass the referendum. Many were sent off to dig deep into the Courier, News-Gazetter, DI, and talk to folks involved in the first defeat of 1953. Some of the unique arguments discovered against merging were--"crime rises in larger cities," who determines which become THE First Methodist Church," and "why intermingle with those living west of the RR tracks." As hard as we tried to change the narrative, alas failure haunts us still today.

rsp wrote on June 24, 2016 at 5:06 pm

We're too busy making fun of what the other does and how they do it than seeing how we can do things better. I remember the talk in 1980. Who was going to be in charge, like it was city vs city.