Tom's #Mailbag, June 23, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, June 23, 2017

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It only seems like everyone has left East Central Illinois.

The mailbag continues to get questions and find people aren't out of town (or out of the country) to answer those questions.

Such as: the use of flashing yellow turn arrows at intersections in Champaign-Urbana, construction at Willard Airport, chips in Busey Bank credit and debit cards, those PVC pipes poking up from the ground at the UI South Farms, a street resurfacing in the future, the old UI orchard, and the county assessor's web site.

Then there's this: CUBS Night at Danville Stadium will be at 6:30 p.m. next Friday, June 30 when the Danville Dans take on the Springfield Sliders.

With any luck we can also celebrate the Legislature's adoption of a budget for the fiscal year that begins the next day, July 1.

We can dream, can't we, that someday we'll operate like a real government.

Crop of pipes?

"On the northeast corner of Church and First near Savoy, they've been putting multiple long pipes down into the university owned field. The ends are sticking up diagonally. We're curious why they are doing this."

Nope, it's part of a pretty neat experiment, according to Scott McCoy, a crop research specialist at the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois.

The white PVC cylinders actually cover clear cylinders that go down about 4 feet below the surface. Those cylinders will be used to insert cameras to take photographs of corn roots.

"Basically," he said, "we're trying to find the genes responsible for prolific root growth."

Once those are identified, he said, corn plants could be developed that require less fertilizer and water.

McCoy said the experiment is under the direction of Andrew Leakey, an associate professor of plant biology, also at the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Airport road and runway work

"There appears to be a perimeter road under construction at Willard Airport. Do you know why and who is funding it? Thanks!"

The airport is constructing the perimeter road as a part of its current FAA-funded

Airport Improvement Program project, said Gene Cossey, executive director of the airport.

"The project primarily removes the unused concrete of a closed runway and builds new taxiway connectors between taxiway B and runway 4/22," he said. "The airport is removing the unused pavement to comply with FAA safety standards and is creating the new taxiways to meet new FAA design standards.

"The airport is constructing the perimeter road as a secondary project which allows us to recycle the concrete being removed from the old runway and provides for a safe means to move around the airport while limiting the times when vehicles have to cross active movement areas."

The FAA grant funds 90 percent of the project. The state provides 5 percent and the airport is providing 5 percent, he said.

The FAA grant is for $4.8 million.

Cossey said the airport, FAA, the engineers working for the airport, and the state made the decision to close runway 4/22 several years ago.

"The runway geometry did not match new FAA design standards and it was at a point where millions needed to be invested to rehab and reconfigure the runway or it needed to be closed. Given the traffic demand and changes in FAA funding priorities, it was decided that the best option was to close the runway," he said.

Flashing yellow left-turn arrows?

"Has anyone checked into converting many of the left turn arrows to flashing yellow during green light (especially the bridges over I-74 at Lincoln, Neil, and Prospect)? Many times there is a line of cars wanting to turn left to get on I-74 but can't turn even though there is no oncoming traffic because they have a red turn arrow. Peoria uses this at several intersections and it works real well."You may be on to something.

There are no flashing yellow arrows in Champaign-Urbana now, but there will be when the upcoming University Avenue improvement project (in Urbana from Wright Street to Maple Street) is completed. The traffic signal modernization will include that, said Kensil Garnett of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Champaign's public works department is "paying attention to what IDOT has implemented in Peoria, attended presentations on its results, and have researched what it would take to switch an intersection from the current operation to flashing yellow arrows if we decide to move in that direction," said Chris Sokolowski, Champaign's assistant city engineer.

In the short term the city has no plans to implement flashing yellow arrows, he said. But it will be paying close attention to IDOT's use of them on University Avenue and the public's reaction.

"It is not a simple re-programming; it requires purchasing and installing new signal heads for the left turns and re-wiring within the cabinet at an estimated cost of about $6,000 per approach (or $24,000 per typical four-legged intersection)," Sokolowski said. "All legs of an intersection must be switched over at the same time and the IDOT policy recommends implementing on a system by system basis (all the signals along a given street rather than a few here and there)."

As for your specific point about the interstate interchanges, Garnett said that IDOT has not looked at them.

"We are planning a systematic approach to installing the flashing yellow arrows," he said. "The University Avenue corridor will be first and then we will begin looking at the other corridors in town. When we have traffic signal modernization projects we will look at installing the flashing yellow arrows."

Former university orchard

"Who owns the property on the southwest corner of Windsor Road and Philo Road and what, if anything, will be done with it? There are several barn-type buildings there and I think at one time there was an apple orchard there. Does the U of I own it and will it ever be used?

No, the university does not own it.

That 160-acre property, as we have reported before, is owned by "Atsa Trust Number One," or Dr. Adolf Lo.

Dr. Lo and his wife purchased it in 2010 from the University of Illinois Foundation. They haven't announced any plans for its development.

Chips on Busey cards

"We have a Busey Bank checking account. We are just wondering why Busey hasn't added chips to their credit cards. I would expect them to be in the forefront of moving to chips in the credit cards associated with accounts. They do so much expanding they should stay up to date with technology for current customers and security. Busey has replaced our credit cards several times because of security breaches on their part."

From Christa Dubson, Busey's corporate communications director: "Busey is transitioning all customers to chipped debit and credit cards to add an extra layer of security when you pay. As cards expire, or replacement ones are needed, Busey will mail new cards with the embedded chips. If you haven't received your new card yet, rest assured, it is coming as we shift all customers to this new, anti-fraud technology."

I heard from someone else at Busey this week that the bank hopes to complete the transition by the end of this year.

"Regardless of whether you have a chip or traditional card, customers are protected," Dubson said. "In addition to our rigorous security standards and encryption and fraud detection software, Busey will cover any losses due to unauthorized transactions on your debit or credit card account."

To learn more about the new chip technology, Dubson urged customers to watch the bank's customer education series on "Why the Chip Matters: What You Need to Know About EMV Chip Cards" at

Florida Avenue re-do

"Are there any plans to resurface Florida Avenue east of Lincoln Avenue? It is a major artery through Urbana, and while potholes are being patched, the road is still very rough."

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said the city's 2017 Capital Improvement Plan includes the reconstruction of Florida Avenue between Busey Avenue and Vine Street in Fiscal Year 2021-2022.

That's four years from now.

"The amount budgeted is $3 million," he said. "This project is dependent on state and/or federal funding and is subject to city council approval."

Assessor's website

"Follow-up question to your late May mailbag about the assessor's office and looking up who owns which property. I've tried the new website, and can find property information, but not who owns the property. The old site listed names, and the new one doesn't. Is that deliberate?"

The information is still right there on the web site at

For instance I looked up the assessment of the Champaign Kraft Foods plant at 1701 W. Bradley Ave. There's a line that says "Tax Payer Name." It lists: "Kraft Heinz Foods Co." with a mailing address in Glenview.

There are actually two Kraft properties. One is about 32 acres, the other 94 acres. One part is in the city, the other in Champaign Township.

The Kraft Heinz's tax bills this year are a combined $1.187 million.

Illuminating library

"I drive home every night, at around midnight, and see all the lights on at the Champaign library. Thought to myself, why don't they turn them off? How much electricity are they wasting?"

Library Director Donna Pittman responds: "Our interior lights are on a timer and go off when we close at 9 p.m. (or 6 p.m. depending on the day of the week). A few lights stay on overnight on the first and second floors for security purposes.

"We use T-5 florescent bulbs which are the most efficient in terms of energy use."


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