CHAMPAIGN — Crossing a two-lane narrow bridge that has been described as “scary” and “a deathtrap” isn’t something Randy Dahl does just once in awhile.
From his home in west Champaign’s Glenshire subdivision, he travels the Kirby Avenue bridge over Interstate 57 nearly every day, and he’s familiar with the hazards.
“It is absolutely amazing that somebody has not been hit,” Dahl said. “But I’m glad they’re finally going to fix it.”
The fix — a $5.5 million reconstruction of the overpass to widen it and include the bike lanes and sidewalks it lacks — has been included in the state’s recently announced six-year capital plan.
It has taken years of meetings and urging on the part of Champaign officials, residents and area lawmakers to get the project this far, according to state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.
Jalane Anderson said it was “the best day ever” when she got a call from Rose recently letting her know the bridge project had been included in the capital plan.
“I started contacting the city, IDOT and our representatives about replacing that dangerous bridge shortly after we built our house in Glenshire II in 1994,” she recalled. “Though everyone agreed the bridge was a problem, it wasn’t in the city or state’s budget. I would contact them every few years and get the same response.”
A few years ago, efforts to do something about the bridge heated up after homeowner associations in the area got together and met with the city, according to Anderson.
The bridge is bad enough during the daytime, she said, but it’s especially dangerous at night when there are people crossing on foot or on a bike.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle that someone hasn’t been injured or killed on that bridge, so we are very excited that it is going to be replaced,” she said.
The Kirby Avenue overpass has an average daily traffic count of 8,700, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
In recent years, some safety measures have been put into place — among them dropping the speed limit on the overpass to 35 mph and installing a flashing yellow beacon system to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists on the bridge.
Construction on the new bridge is still at least a couple of years away, Rose said.
First, the state will be selling bonds to pay for all the construction included in the new capital plan, he said. Some coordination between the city and Illinois Department of Transportation will need to be done, contracts will have to be awarded, and planning and engineering work will need to be completed.
‘It’s too narrow’
Given all that, Rose said, the earliest he can see construction starting is fiscal 2022, which begins in calendar year 2021.
IDOT will be expecting the city to kick in for this project.
“The city will be responsible for costs of the improvements west and east of the proposed approach pavements for the new structure,” said Joe Schatteman, community outreach liaison for IDOT Region 4.
“A study of the project has to be completed, and plans will need to be developed prior to the start of construction,” he said. “During the study portion of the project, IDOT will meet with the stakeholders of the project to determine a scope for the project.”
Liz Clark, who lives in Glenshire, said she was happy to hear a new and safer bridge is on the way.
“It’s scary, you know. It’s too narrow,” she said. “And because it’s steep, you can’t see on the other side.”
‘Hard to see’
Debbie Rome, a retired Champaign teacher who also lives in Glenshire, said she’s looking forward to being able to cross the bridge on foot or on her bike. She would have ridden her bike to work had the bridge been safe for bicyclists, she said.
As it is, Rome said, she has seen several accidents, including cars ending up in ditches as they came down the bridge on the west side.
“No one was killed, but it was just a matter of time,” she said.
Dahl, who also lives in Glenshire, said few pedestrians and bicyclists stop when entering the bridge to push the button that activates the flashing lights.
“They just keep on going, and it’s hard to see,” he said.
He’s so glad to hear a bridge replacement is on the way that he said he won’t be complaining about any construction inconveniences.
“I will take the long way around and be happy,” he said.