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This week's Mailbag has more questions and answers (19) than the number of hits the Cubs produced in their last two games against Milwaukee and Colorado (nine). Thus, the Mailbag either is more clutch than Cubs' hitters, or you folks have been serving up some fat pitches. I'll go with the former.

This week's lineup: centerlines for rural roads, prolonged highway construction projects, dangerous intersections in Champaign County, trucks at Rural King, who made the Big Ditch, emergency situations at the courthouse, another call to fix a bumpy railroad crossing, unwelcome emails from political candidates, the controversy over large campaign signs in Champaign, and an interesting suggestion for a festival in Champaign in the summer of 2020.

"I think 'Big Ditch' north of Mahomet is a man-made canal and not a naturally occurring waterway. However, I can't find any information on when it was built or how long it is. Was it built as part of the efforts to drain the swamps of Champaign County?"

Big Ditch is a natural waterway that predates the arrival of drainage districts in Champaign County. An 1878 amendment to the state Constitution allowed for the establishment of drainage districts to drain the swampy land of Champaign and other counties.

But maps dated 1873 and 1893 — available for viewing at the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library — show Big Ditch cutting on a diagonal through Condit Township, following the same course as it does today.

View at Champaign Rural King

"What are all those semi trucks doing parked in front of Rural King in Champaign? It makes reaching the store difficult. Can they move them?"

A customer service representative at Rural King's Mattoon headquarters said that the front end of the parking lot of the Champaign store was purchased by Parkland College before the arrival of Rural King in Champaign and that Parkland uses the area for its truck driver training program.

Courthouse emergencies

"In court the other day, 9-1-1 was called when a woman in the audience collapsed (this was in Courtroom A at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana). Soon, paramedics and firefighters arrived as the courtroom was cleared. My question: Are rescue personnel subject to the same security measures as the rest of us are, even if it means slowing down the rescue process?"

No, first responders are not subject to a security search, said Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh.

"We do not delay fire and EMS. All their tools and gear set off the detectors," Walsh said. "We often hold the elevator on the first floor for them."

Dangerous intersections

"The three most dangerous intersections in Champaign County are: 1, Route 45 at County Road 2500N Thomasboro; 2, Route 45 at Leverett Road and 3; Route 150 at Staley Road. Does IDOT have any future plans to place stop lights at these intersections? Emergency responders were called to another crash this week with two very serious injuries. These intersections continue have severe crashes on a near weekly basis. Because of the amount of heavy traffic on these highways, it is often difficult to crossover and turn left on these roadways.

"Who can we (citizens) write to for getting much needed upgrades at these intersections?"

Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said that two of the intersections you list have the most potential for improvements although nothing is planned.

"The district's data indicates the intersections at US 45 & County Road 2500N and US 45 & Leverett Road are on the list of intersections in Champaign County having the most potential for safety improvements," he said. "The US 150 & Staley Road intersection does not appear on the list.

"However, the district has studied the safety of the intersections listed in your inquiry. The district does not have plans to install traffic signals at the intersections listed. Studies indicate the installation of traffic signals often increases the number of crashes at a given intersection. Often, certain types of crashes, such as turning crashes or angle crashes may decrease, but rear-end crashes will increase.

"The district will continue to monitor the safety performance of these intersections and make improvements as needed."

Prolonged construction projects

"Considering how construction zones on highways are dangerous why does IDOT allow projects to drag on for so long? I-74 on many days will have a small crew working on one spot in nine miles. Why are contractors allowed to start several projects, and move crews somewhere else taking way too long to finish any of them?

The contract for that project, Garnett said, calls for completion by late November.

"When the department designs a set of plans, we calculate the quantities to complete the work. We then use daily production rates calculated from using historical averages for similar work to determine how many days it will take to complete a project. The contract then goes to letting and the contractor determines how many hours of work and equipment it will take to complete the contract within the time frame while keeping overhead down," he said. "The contract between Urbana and St. Joe has a completion date written into the contract of Nov. 15, plus five working days to complete any punch list items.

"Open Road Paving has been working 60 hours per week on average to complete this contract by the completion date. This contract also contains provisions that doesn't allow the contractor to work in the west bound direction until 9 a.m. and in the east bound direction after 3 p.m. This was put in the plans to reduce exposure to traffic during peak travel times and to avoid traffic queues, which increases safety to the traveling public."

Bridge painting

"Could you try to find some information about the lane closure on Springfield Avenue under the I-57 overpass? They spent months working on that bridge a year or two ago and now they're working on it again, this time with a lengthy stop light on Springfield that only allows traffic to pass one way at a time either east or west. Hoping it will be short-lived, but by the looks of what they're doing it seems it could be a while."

Garnett's reply: "The contract in question is a bridge painting contract. The structures carrying Interstate 57 over Illinois Route 10 were rehabilitated in 2016. After completion of the rehabilitation, an industrial coating was placed on the steel beams to prevent corrosion and increase the life of the structure. The contractor is required to sandblast all metallic surfaces and place three coats of prime and paint.

"This work could not be completed during the bridge rehabilitation because it would have damaged the new coatings, therefore another contract had to be let and awarded to perform the work. This contract will be completed by the end of October 2018, weather dependent."

Hazardous vegetation

"Can someone do something to mow down the vegetation just east of the entrance to the Urbana Aldi? Making a left turn onto U.S. 150 from Aldi is very hazardous."

Garnett said the area will be cleared.

"When weather permits, our team section responsible for this area will take our boom mower to Aldi and Berringer Commons (subdivision) and eliminate as many line-of-site hazards as possible on our right-of-way. In addition, in the spring of 2019, we will spray the cattails. This should help dry out the ditch and make it easier to maintain."

New Champaign park

"I heard somewhere that a park is to be developed on the northwest corner of Kirby and Staley (in Champaign). Currently it's an agricultural field. Do you know when (or if) this will happen, and what the park will be named? How large will it be?"

Yes, that site in west Champaign will be known as Commissioners Park, said Bridgette Moen, park planner for the Champaign Park District.

"The park is near Kirby and Staley, but is only accessible by car from Kirby Avenue via English Oak Drive and by bike/foot via the Trails at Abbey Fields path off of Staley Road. The address for the park is 902 Glen Abbey Drive," she said. "The property is 20 acres, and approximately 5 of those acres are being developed as park.

"Improvements include a playground with a shade structure and sand pit, a small picnic shelter, a soccer field, a half basketball court, and a connector path. The park is being constructed by Feutz Contractors, and work will wrap up this fall."

Intersection needs a traffic signal

"Bradley and Duncan is a very busy intersection with a lot of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Who do we talk to about getting a traffic signal installed there?"The city of Champaign agrees with you that a traffic signal is needed, said Kris Koester, a spokesman for the public works department. But cost is the issue.

"The Bradley & Duncan intersection is one of several that have been identified as intersections that could benefit from the installation of a traffic signal," he said. "A traffic signal installation is a $300,000 to $500,000 capital improvements project that competes with all other capital projects for inclusion in the city's 10-year Capital Improvement Plan, which is updated annually.

"A project for the Bradley & Duncan intersection is not currently included in the Capital improvement Plan."

DMV accessibility

"Why doesn't the drivers license facility in Champaign have handicap accessible doors?"

This question was asked last year and the answer is the same, said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

"The doors at the Champaign driver services facility meet the requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)," he said. "The facility undergoes inspection annually by the city inspector, the state or city fire marshall, or the Department of Labor. All departments assess the facility's doors and accessibility for persons with disabilities."

Bumpy railroad crossing

"Are there any plans to improve the railroad crossing on Bradley Avenue just west of Fourth Street? Being new to Champaign, I made the mistake of hitting those rails at the posted speed limit (30 mph), and for a moment I thought I had broken my car. Even at 15 mph, the ride is way rougher than usual for a railroad crossing."

This is another question that we've answered before, but the crossing hasn't gotten any better. Improving the crossing is up to the Montreal-based Canadian National Railroad.

"Any improvement to the railroad tracks on Bradley between Fourth and Market would be completed by Canadian National RR. CN has not made the city aware of any plans for improvements," Koester said. "The city will pass this information on to CN."

He noted that any citizen can file a "Railroad Safety Complaint" at the Illinois Commerce Commission website at

Perhaps if enough people file a complaint something can be done.

Centerline marking on township roads

"Curtis Road gets a lot of traffic during rush hours. Now that winter darkness and wet roads make it more difficult without any lane markings, could it be possible to have at least center dotted stripes installed between U.S. 45 and Illinois 130?"

Most of that oil and chip road is under Urbana Township jurisdiction, said Jim Prather, the Urbana Township highway commissioner.

"The problem with that is oil and chip-based roads tend to get soft and 'bleed' oil during the hot summer temperatures. Therefore, the stripping paint doesn't hold up very well versus an asphalt- or concrete-based road," he said.

Construction fence

"I drove past Central High School on University Avenue in Champaign and noticed the orange construction fence, maybe 3 feet tall, on the right of way on the south side of the street. I wondered if this is a homeowner's attempt at a spite fence? It does not appear to be related to Central High School's construction project. Is this type of fencing allowed in the city?"

David Oliver, the code compliance officer for Champaign's neighborhood services department, said the city checked out the orange fencing.

"It is not related to the construction project. The homeowner indicated they are using it to protect new sod that was planted. It should be removed when the sod is established," he said.

Voter registration options

"We live in Urbana and our daughter attends the U of I while living in an apartment closer to campus. She is going to vote in the upcoming elections but we're unsure where she should vote. Her permanent address is our home. Because she is local and a stone throw from her precinct is she supposed to vote there or can she vote at polling places on campus designated for students? There is concern her vote won't count if she votes in the wrong place."

It's her choice, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

"She may choose to register either at home or at her college address, and she may vote (early, by mail or in-person on Election Day) from either (but not both!)," Hulten said. "The easiest way to register to vote is online:"

Unwelcome emails from candidate

"I recently received an email from JB Pritzker's political campaign with the subject line of the email read 'Thanks for signing up'. My wife also received this same email. The problem is neither of us signed up. Furthermore, we do not donate to political campaigns or sign up to support political campaigns. So we are at a loss as to why and how the Pritzker campaign found our email addresses. I have a vague recollection from a post in Tom's Mailbag a year or two ago that there was some loophole that allowed people who had had their email listed on the Champaign County list who requested an absentee ballot could have been contacted by Gordy Hulten's political campaign (or something like that).

"So is there possibly something going on like that here, where a candidate for a state office in this case, can access voter information (such as email addresses) and send out an email like the one we received? And if that answer is affirmative, is there a way a citizen can prevent that from happening in the future?"

No, said Hulten, your email address was not disclosed by his office.

"As we stated when asked previously for the Mailbag, the email addresses provided by voters to the Champaign County Clerk's office are never made available to political parties or campaigns or any other outside organizations," he said. "The email addresses are exempt from FOIA, and we do not release them. My own campaign is not given access to them, nor is any other campaign or political party.

"Mr. Pritzker's campaign almost certainly buys data from marketing companies, and I presume that includes lists of email addresses they'll attempt to match to register voters. They did not get any email address data from the Champaign County Clerk's office."

Large campaign signs (continued)

"After being notified to take my 4x4 Republican yard signs down, I noticed that the Democrat Party has begun putting up signs (with several smaller yard signs attached to a large one). There are several along Hedge Road, Bradley Avenue and East Washington Street. Is a large sign made up of six or nine regular yard signs actually acceptable under the Champaign ordinance?"

There is a loophole in the existing city ordinance regarding the size of political yard signs, said Champaign zoning administrator Kevin Phillips, that some people took advantage of by attaching several small signs to a large one.

The city staff will look into whether it's something that needs to be addressed, he said.

"We'll talk about it and whether it's worth making a recommendation to the plan commission and (city) council or not," he said.

Phillips said that after he gave candidates and political parties an extra week to take down unusually large signs in the city, he was satisfied for the most part.

"The response I got (from the candidates and political parties) was really pretty good. Everybody complied when we gave them the extra week," he said. "But we still have individual homeowners that put the signs in the public right of way, but there are too many individuals to try to enforce that now."

Simpsons' Springfield?

"The last page of section A (in The News-Gazette) lists national temperatures. One of the cities listed is Springfield, with no corresponding state. For a while I thought maybe it was Springfield, Ill., but the forecast isn't usually consistent with Champaign, which is just 90 minutes away. Could it possibly be the forecast for the Simpsons' Springfield?"

Nope, that Springfield listing is for Springfield, Ill., said George Dobrik, the deputy managing editor of The News-Gazette. The forecast comes from the Associated Press. It may be a moot point, Dobrik said, because he's considering replacing Springfield with another location for the weather report.

Chester Street future

"When will C Street (Chester Street bar in downtown Champaign) reopen? My friends and I are worried we will have another (New Year's Eve) without our favorite place to dance. To the owner of C Street: please, let us come home!"

Scott Cochrane, who owns the Chester Street property, said in June that he planned to reopen it this year as a brewery with a taproom.

Here's a link to that story ... But Champaign Building Safety Supervisor Larry Happ said that his office has not received a renovation permit application for the Chester Street property at 63 E. Chester. And we never heard back from Cochrane.

An idea for the summer of '20 in Champaign

Mailbag reader Bruce Franzen has an idea:

"Just visited in Coronado CA, zip code 92118.

"Really nice celebration on 9-21-18.

"So Champaign Zip Codes are 61820, 61821 and 61822. Think about it. June, 18 2020, etc. It could be a great way to bring together the community with games for kids, local food vendors, live music and possibly a beer garden. Just a suggestion."


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).