Latest phase of MCORE work creating chaos for UI pedestrians

Latest phase of MCORE work creating chaos for UI pedestrians

CHAMPAIGN — A maze of chain-link fences confronts pedestrians trying to enter busy classroom buildings along Wright Street and Armory Avenue, and excavated dirt has replaced half the street.

Phase 4 of the MCORE transportation project has taken over a well-traveled section of the University of Illinois campus, and it appears to have caught lots of people off guard.

UI communications instructor Tom Costello, who works in Lincoln Hall, has witnessed students and faculty climbing over chains used to rope off areas and struggling to find a way into buildings, with "no signs and no idea of where to go or how to get there."

Costello, former assistant managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, rose at Monday's campus Academic Senate meeting to express concerns about safety.

"It is challenging, no doubt," Chancellor Robert Jones said, promising to look into improving signs. "Student safety is always a No. 1 concern."

"The whole campus seems to be under construction," he said.

The $47 million MCORE project — short for Multimodal Corridor Enhancement — is designed to improve safety and transit for pedestrians, bikes and buses in central Champaign-Urbana, with help from a $16 million federal grant. Three phases are complete, including sections of Green Street from the Illini Union to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana and from First and Neil streets in Champaign.

"It's a very large, very complicated project. We have not seen a project of this magnitude probably in about 50 years on campus, so it is a big shock," said Stacey DeLorenzo, transportation director for UI Facilities and Services and the campus liaison to the MCORE project. "Everybody has to kind of figure their new way around."

This new $13.2 million phase — repaving Wright from Springfield Avenue to Armory and repaving Armory from Wright to Fourth Street — is scheduled to last through December 2020. But the sections now being worked on will be completed by next fall, she said.

The Quad side of Wright Street is essentially fenced in south of Daniel Street, opening only at the corner of Chalmers and Wright. Pedestrians can't cross south of Chalmers and along the connecting section of Armory until they reach Sixth Street.

Half of the street has been dug up along that section, as well as the south side of Armory west of Sixth, as the roads are repaved and water mains replaced. The excavation goes right up to the steps of Gregory Hall's western entrance.

It's hard to tell where to enter some buildings, with few signs visible.

DeLorenzo said her team sent out notices to contacts in each building and to campus communicators earlier in March, reminding them of the upcoming project. She also put a notice in the university's "e week" bulletin sent to students, faculty and staff in mid-March and a more detailed one again on Sunday, with links to maps for how to get in each building on the Quad. Press releases also went out from the city of Champaign in mid-March.

"I don't know where the breakdown in the communication was," she said. "It seems like the message did not quite get out to people this time. I think they thought once Green was done, we're done. I keep trying to tell them there's more to this."

As for signs, DeLorenzo said people tend to ignore them. She has watched pedestrians stop and look at a "sidewalk closed" sign or an "exit closed" sign in a building and just keep walking.

"People just keep going until they can't get any farther or run into a fence," she said.

The project started March 5, but the major closures didn't happen until just after spring break, DeLorenzo said. Initially, only the sidewalk along Armory was closed.

On the Monday after break, March 25, students returned to find the corner of Wright and Armory shut down, and after that, crews started working their way west and north, she said.

Costello said it was fairly chaotic that first day, as some poles and chains still covered entrances that were supposed to be open.

"Literally, we had people tripping all over, having no idea where to get in, no signage. That's everybody's responsibility — the university, the contractors, the funders," he said. "Did any of them walk the route on Monday to see what things needed to be taken care of? That's my concern" as the project moves forward, he said.

DeLorenzo advises people to enter buildings from the Quad side, if possible, though there are ways to get to the Wright Street entrances of the English Building and Lincoln Hall. Each building still has at least one wheelchair-accessible entrance, she said.

The Facilities and Services website has an item about the project with links to maps for each building and accessible routes, as well as the MCORE website.

Over the next few weeks, the work will continue on the east side of Wright near the Henry Administration Building and Altgeld Hall, with one lane still open.

Both lanes of the section currently torn up south of Chalmers will be shut down over the summer but should reopen by August, DeLorenzo said.

The west half of Wright from Chalmers north to Green will be redone next fall, as well as the north half of Armory west of Sixth. Those projects should wrap up by December, she said.

MCORE contractors will then redo the stretch of Wright between Green and Springfield during 2020, along with smaller sections of Chalmers and Sixth around Newman Hall. DeLorenzo said that part of the project won't be as restrictive.

The work will remove the existing bus medians and bike lanes along Wright.

New bus "islands" will be installed outside Gregory Hall at Wright and Armory, at the corner of Wright and Daniel near the Illini Union Bookstore, and near Everitt Lab at Wright and Healey streets. Bike lanes will be attached to the streets and raised slightly.

"It's frustrating for all of us, but it will be really good when it's all done," she said.