Tom's #Mailbag, Sept. 7, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Sept. 7, 2018

Have a question you want answered? Ask our veteran reporter by clicking here.

First off, there will be no Mailbag next week. But it will be back online on Friday, Sept. 21, and in the paper on Sept. 22.

As for this week's offerings, questions about empty Amtrak cars, a possible "black site" in Urbana, a "disappearing" house in Savoy and a speed zone where there is no longer a school.


Dr. Howard speed limit

"Since the old Dr. Howard School on University Avenue is not being used as a school, shouldn't the school zone speed limit signs be covered until the children move back into the new building?"

Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester said the city looked into removing the speed limits signs since no classes will be held at the rebuilt school for approximately two years.

"The city decided that it does no harm for the signs to remain in place. The advance warning flashers have been disabled and the remaining school zone signs explicitly state that the speed limit is in effect only 'on school days when children are present,'" he said. "We did, though, lift some of the parking restrictions on James Street and Park Street. It is likely that, once demolition/construction starts, the building contractor will put up applicable 'construction zone' signs."


Empty Amtrak cars

"I have a question regarding the Amtrak service to and from Carbondale that passes through Champaign-Urbana. For the last year or so on most days there are three baggage cars on these trains. What are they transporting?"

Nothing, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

"Those cars are not in revenue service but instead are there for an operations requirement," he said.

Since the tracks that Amtrak uses are owned by the Canadian National Railroad, the passenger service has to abide by CN's regulations, he said. And the CN requires "a certain number of wheels and axles per train."

Why is that?

"That's like asking why certain railroads have different signals. It's just the way they do business," Magliari said. "It's been the case for quite a while."


Inconvenient bus stop

"Why do MTD buses drop off students at the corner of Lincoln and Kettering Park (in north Urbana) making the students cross Lincoln and making it nearly impossible for cars to turn left off Kettering? Also, the buses go around the block and then stop at the bus stop in front of the apartments to pick up. Why not just drop off and pick up at the bus stop all at the same time? This is dangerous for students and drivers a like."

The MTD is working with the city of Urbana on this situation, said MTD senior planner Jay Rank.

Here's his full answer:

"Thanks for asking! This is a difficult issue for us as well. We try to accommodate developments around town, many of which have not prioritized transit accessibility during their initial development. We've been making progress in integrating into the planning process earlier, but we still find that decisions are made without full consideration for transit and pedestrian activity. Even in the best laid plans, there are still inherent challenges with some sites. Lincoln Avenue, for example, is a very busy road with four lanes of traffic, yet it has seen intense residential development geared toward students over the last several years. This creates conflict between our passengers, all of whom at some point are pedestrians, and vehicles.

"The route that serves this corridor, the 22/220 Illini, travels between campus and North Lincoln to serve the student housing complexes, including One North, One South, and Capstone Quarters. For most trips, the route ends at Lincoln and Killarney and the buses should be dropping off around the corner on Kettering Park, just east of Lincoln, as a far side stop. There are a few trips per day that extend over I-74. For those trips, the bus stop should be north of Killarney on Lincoln because the routing does not turn onto Kettering Park.

"The reason that there are separate stops for boarding and alighting has to do with time. There is generally a scheduled layover at the end of the route used for giving the driver a break, recovery time in case the bus is late, and a pause to give the bus the 10-minute spacing between trips. If the bus is running on time, the bus wouldn't be due to come back to the stops on the west side of Lincoln for over seven or eight minutes. We will not hold anyone on the bus against their will, so the choice to get off is theirs.

"The alternative would be to remove busy bus stops on the east side of Lincoln where passengers mostly alight and only allow alightings at stop lights where there are marked cross-walks. This would add a considerable amount of distance for a passenger to walk to get to these apartment complexes.

"We have been working with the city of Urbana on finding ways to improve this situation. Ideas have included adding crosswalks and refuge islands between the lanes of traffic, but that hasn't materialized yet. Until we can find a solution, please be patient and look out for vehicles and pedestrians on busy corridors."


"Missing" house"

The house at South Prospect and Pittsfield in Savoy has been slowly disappearing over the last few years. Now it is nearly invisible. Is it abandoned? Is there a code that covers how a property is maintained? It seems a hazard for fire or burglary."

Dan Davies, Savoy's zoning administrator, said, "We are aware of the situation and have been in contact with the owner. We hope to have some compliance soon."

He explained that the vegetation covering the front of the house blocks egress from it, as well as other issues.

"This is addressed in the Property Maintenance Code," he said. "Not being occupied or maintained, there can be unwanted animals nesting in the brush. We are getting complaints from the neighbors who are concerned about the appearance, safety and security."


Mystery solved

"On the corner of Vine and Elm (in Urbana), there is an old Goodyear shop and I regularly see Urbana cop cars parked behind it. On one occasion, I saw a firetruck parked behind it and saw a couple of guys carrying a mannequin into the building. Is it used by the city police/fire for training? Is it a black site that they use for interrogation?"

Sorry, not a black site.

The old Goodyear store is owned by the city — it eventually hopes to develop the site — and is used for storage, said Urbana's Interim Police Chief Bryant Seraphin.

Both the police and fire departments store items in there, he said.

That mannequin you saw is used by the fire department for training, said Seraphin.


Jolly Roger glassware

"I stumbled upon your article about the Jolly Roger and wanted to know if you had any information on whereabouts on the former Jolly Roger glassware. I once possessed a glass from the establishment from a date of the woman I still am with today. Unfortunately it was broken several years ago and have often dreamt of finding a replacement. Thank you for creating attention to this once wonderful establishment."

"I'll see what I can do," said Michael Timpone, the owner of Timpone's Restaurant in Urbana, and the son of the late Ray Timpone Sr., who operated the old Jolly Roger.


Retreat at Illinois followup

"Regarding the Aug. 31 Mailbag about the Retreat at Illinois development in Urbana, will the project include replacing the very narrow intersection of West Church and North Harvey streets? The road was always narrow due to the proximity of the former water storage tanks, but it seems like now is a great opportunity to remove the 'kink' in the road."

The site plans submitted by the developer to the Urbana Plan Commission this year show no changes proposed for the intersection of Church and Harvey.


South Neil slated for work?

"Just curious if there are any plans to repave Neil Street northbound between Curtis and Windsor (roads). It'll bounce you outta your seat when in the left lane at least, and I know from experience that calling the city of Champaign does no good because (I was told it's a state route)."

Kensil Garnett, Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said that the department's FY 2019-2024 Multi-year Program

includes resurfacing and other improvements on Neil Street from Springfield Avenue in Champaign to Curtis Road in Savoy. The project is programmed for $3.49 million.


Arcane question of the year?

"For many years I have seen a sign designating a portion of I-57 near Effingham as a 'test pavement.'"I found out a little about it online: It's a IDOT project started in 1986-1987, as a way of testing Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavement (CRCP). I believe it is also a recycled concrete. I understand testing has been done, core samples taken, over the years. Although I don't drive that area much, it always seemed to be a good stretch of pavement when I did. I'm wondering two things: 1) what have been the results of that testing? and 2) as well as it seems to be holding up, why isn't it being used more? We have had many problems with pavement that didn't hold up well lately, e,g, Windsor Road."

The answer, courtesy of Kensil Garnett, goes pretty deep into the transportation engineer weeds:

"The section of pavement near Effingham that your reader asked about is one of the original 8 structural performance sections of our mechanistic designed pavements. The original pavement was 100-foot Jointed Reinforced Concrete Pavement (JRCP) that exhibited multiple mid panel cracks that were badly faulted. When the decision to rehabilitate the existing pavement was made, it was cored and evaluated for durability cracking and found that the aggregates were not prone to this distress. The JRCP was then recycled into a 10-inch Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavement (CRCP) inlay. This section is still monitored today and a detailed distress survey is performed every two years. The most recent report of this effort was published in October of 2016. Here is the link to the report:

"Our aggregates in Illinois are prone to durability cracking and polishing. Unfortunately, most of the aggregates will start to exhibit durability cracking after 20 to 30 years due to the freeze-thaw cycles that we have in Illinois. By the time that we are ready to reconstruct a pavement, the aggregates already start showing signs of distress and will not be good materials for the new pavement."

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