Tom's #Mailbag, May 19, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, May 19, 2017

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This week's 'bag includes questions about the age-old problem of low bridge clearances on Green Street, interstate highway work, sidewalk seating at outdoor cafes and restaurants in downtown Champaign, two new businesses, an Urbana restaurant so successful it is creating a traffic problem and more about everyone's least favorite local amenity: geese.


Outdoor seating in downtown Champaign

"What are the rules about how much sidewalk space restaurants and bars can use for outdoor seating? Some places I see little metal markers driven into the sidewalk, which I assume marks how much space they can use. Other places I don't see any markers. One of the newer establishments has expanded several feet in recent weeks and blocks almost all of the walkable width of the sidewalk in one place."

Use of the metal markers was an experiment that did not work well and the city stopped using them, said Champaign Planning & Development Director Bruce Knight.

"The fee for sidewalk cafes is based on the square footage of area they use. They have to bring in a plan for their seating area that we review against the rules and approve and that plan has to be displayed in the window of the business," he said. "At a minimum a 5-foot area has to be maintained for passing pedestrian traffic (ADA would require a minimum of 4 feet). We enforce primarily on a complaint basis so if there is a specific location that is shared with us we will gladly go out and enforce our requirements."

Here's the link to the site to file a complaint:


MCORE suggestion

"With the MCORE project in full swing on Green Street in Champaign, why is the pavement clearance at the railroad not being increased? The underside of the bridge seems to be hit by trucks at least once a month, due to a clearance of less than 12 feet. With the federal funding, and complete reconstruction of the road and sewers, I would think the city would have to build in accordance with the state and federal clearance codes."

Federal regulations govern the clearances on interstate highways while clearances on non-interstate roads are governed by the individual states, said Chris Sokolowski, an assistant city engineer for transportation in Champaign.

"In Illinois, when a local agency utilizes federal funding for a project, all aspects of the design are reviewed by IDOT and subject to state design criteria. The design criteria for vertical clearance is 14 feet unless there are justifiable reasons for an exemption approved by IDOT," he said. "In the case of the Green Street viaduct, obtaining the full 14 feet of clearance was not achievable. To do so would have required approximately two feet of additional excavation, impacting a number of utilities as well as adversely impacting or requiring the elimination of access to Green Street from adjacent properties both immediately east and west of the viaduct, for example Chestnut Street just west of the viaduct. As a result, the design received an exemption.

"The MCORE project design does lower the elevation of Green Street as much as possible without triggering the issues mentioned above and will add about 3 inches of additional clearance."


Interstate highway work

"Why does the current work on I-57 (which caused an extra 40 minutes on our trip to the South Side Sunday) start and end on the Ford County lines? I don't mean just near the lines, or a few feet away, but exactly on the lines. I have tried to imagine what relevance a county has to I-57 maintenance and come up empty.

"And don't let them get away with telling you they just started where they left off, because they left off exactly at the county lines also."

Essentially the reason is because that's always the way it's been.

Here's the response from Wayne Phillips, program development engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation in District 3 in Ottawa:

"Our projects typically follow the roadway sections that were established during the original construction of the highway. The original section '10' of I-57 extended from the northern portion of Champaign County into the southern portion of Ford County. The southern job limit of our project stops at the District 3/5 line separating Champaign and Ford County," he explained.

"The northern section in Ford County, roadway section '27,' extends from roadway section '10' to exactly the Ford County line. Therefore, the north limit of the project ends at the county line.

"It makes sense to continue to follow the original roadway construction sections when we develop project limits since it can be expected that the existing conditions will be similar throughout the sections."


Jimmy John's success creates problem

"The drive-through line at Jimmy John's on University (in Urbana) is a traffic hazard. The line at lunch time is so long that it flows into the streets and it clogs traffic on Broadway, Park, and sometimes University avenues. Does their company have a legal responsibility to fix this issue? Have there been any documented accidents at this location that have been attributed to the drive-through line? Has the city of Urbana been made aware of this hazard and is there anything they can do to fix it?"

We asked Urbana Community Development Director Libby Tyler (who soon will be leaving the city government for a new adventure) and here is her response:"The city and IDOT are concerned about the queuing onto Broadway Avenue and any impacts it may have to University Avenue. The city is not aware of an increased number of crashes at this location due to the Jimmy John's restaurant queue issue.

"The queue distance from the Jimmy John's pickup window meets the zoning ordinance requirements, however, the restaurant's success admittedly exceeds the provided queuing distance. This issue occurs typically during the noon hour on weekdays only.

"We have looked at incorporating some improvements to the situation as part of the review of the Panda Express project planned to the east of the Jimmy John's building."


Fresh International Market

"Any update on Neil Street Commons (505 S. Neil St.) and the Fresh International Market?"

I stopped by a few days ago and they say they're going to open in about a week.



"There's a new business called Snooze next to Scotty's Brewhouse in the Carriage Center on South Neil. I Googled it and couldn't identify what it might be. Any ideas?"

It's a high-end mattress shop.


County board replacement

"The article about a Champaign County Board member resigning made me wonder how replacements are appointed. Does the whole board approve the replacement? Does the party of the departed member select the replacement? If a member of the minority party resigns, does the majority party get an opportunity to increase their count?"

The party of the departing county board member gets to choose the replacement — it happened recently with two Republicans from District 1 — and forward it to the county board. The full county board then votes on the selection and, as long as I've been covering the county board, always accedes to the party selection, whether it's the majority or minority party.


Wind turbines

"Are the single wind turbines I see around town holding up to expectations?"

The most prominent one in Champaign — along South Neil Street at Ameren Illinois' Technology Applications Center — is doing well after about five months of operations. I was there earlier this week on a windy day and the 160-foot tall turbine was generating close to its maximum of 100 kilowatts of electricity. Its optimal wind speed for production is 28 mph, said Tamer Rousan, the supervising engineer of the microgrid project at the applications center.


More on geese

Last week's Mailbag included a question about whether park districts or cities are doing anything about the great increase in the local goose population. We got a lot of information from the Urbana Park District, including its plan to plant more native grasses around Crystal Lake. The geese love the lake now because much of it is lined with turf grasses. But geese don't like prairie grasses, apparently because they can't see whether there are predators in it or past it.

We got two more responses during the week, the first from Joe DeLuce, executive director of the Champaign Park District.

"The Champaign Park District is in the process of developing an action plan on how to deal with this issue. We are working with the Urbana Park District to learn from their efforts. We encourage our park patrons to let us know of any issues with geese in Champaign Park District's parks. They can email me at"

Second was a response from Roy S. Domazlicky, urban waterfowl project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

He said the state has two programs to reduce a local goose population in addition to hunting, which is preferable where it can be used safely and legally.

"Nest and egg removal is employed to reduce recruitment into the population," he wrote. "The reduction of recruitment through this method leads to having less geese around in the summer and less geese return in subsequent years over time. "Our Charity Harvest program is a more drastic option that is very cautiously employed only in areas where non-lethal techniques and nest removal have been tried but haven't worked to satisfaction. The Charity Harvest program allows geese to be captured, euthanized, processed into human food products, and donated to food pantries for distribution to need persons. Again, there are many requirements to be met before a Charity Harvest is conducted and it is employed only where conflicts are severe and other measures have been tried for a number of years. Permits from IDNR are required for both of these programs and the landowner is responsible for all costs."As for what private citizens can do, Domazlicky suggests that people "can employ non-lethal goose deterrents which fall under the broad categories of exclusion, harassment and habitat modification in most cases without a permit from IDNR. Requests for nest removal and charity harvests require permits and are handled on a case by case basis."

Below are links to the Canada goose information on IDNR's "Living with Wildlife" website:


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