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Plenty of questions about streets and highways this week — construction on the Neil Street bridge over I-74, bumps on Prospect Avenue, Champaign's snow removal policy, and directional signs in the county — but also queries about whether Neil Street should be Neal Street, whether there are fewer robins this year, the youngest Illini athletes and News-Gazette comic strips.

Also: Savoy is not getting a Trader Joe's, how to get a vote by mail ballot in Champaign County, and the bitter truth: Curtis Road Storage doesn't have to be on Curtis Road.

Vote by mail request

"Can a person request a ballot via email? At what email address, or is it strictly visiting the county to request a ballot? Or can it be done by phone? We usually get an email reminder but so far nothing."

You didn't say where you live but in Champaign County you can request a ballot application through the county clerk's website (https://www.champaigncountyclerk.com/elections/vote-by-mail-reside), by phone (384-3724) or by email (mail@champaigncountyclerk.com), said County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

Using the form on the clerk's website is the preferred method, Hulten said.

It's important to realize, though, that requesting the ballot is just a first step.

"Once we get an email or a phone call, we generate an application that they have to sign," he said. "It just starts the process so we can send them that and eventually the ballot."

Neil Street work

"Can anyone explain why North Neil Street at I-74 has had construction barrels up for two weeks but nothing is going on? It's a great inconvenience to a lot of people."

There's work being done there, but you can't see it because it's under the Neil Street bridge.

Here's the word from Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation: "The intent of the project that your reader mentions is to perform superstructure repairs and substructure repairs on structure number 010-0132 which carries Neil Street over the I-74 interchange. Traffic control and protection for the project was set up on Sept. 10, and Stark Excavating began removing the damaged diaphragms for the structure on Sept. 11.

"The removal of the damaged diaphragms is occurring underneath the structure, so it is very possible that travelers on Neil Street would not see the contractor working. Lane closures are required on Neil Street because the contractor cannot have live lanes of traffic traveling over the areas that they are working on underneath of the structure. The contractor will be working on the middle of the structure for approximately another week, and then traffic will be switched to the outside lanes."

Neil/Neal Street

"I found (a) map online of Champaign County in 1866 and it appears that Neil Street is spelled 'Neal' (found at Neil and University). Is this a one of a kind mistake? Was the original proper name for Neil Street 'Neal,' and it was changed by some clerical error never to be fixed again (probably due to bureaucracy, ignorance or stubbornness, or a combination)? What gives?!"

Good question that so far as I know is a local mystery without a good solution.

Yes, Neil Street originally was Neal Street. But no one seems to know how or why it changed.

There's even some dispute about who Neal was. One version says it was Albert P. Neal, president of the Associated Lande Co., who helped lay out plats for a number of towns along the Illinois Central Railroad, including Champaign, Ludlow and Pesotum. Another version is that he was David A. Neal, one of the first stockholders or incorporators of the Illinois Central Railroad Co. (along with Robert Rantoul, George Ludlow and others).

Here's an excerpt from a 1950 Letter to the Editor in The News-Gazette from C.C. Burford of Urbana, a local historian who said that Fred Price of the Champaign County Abstract Co. told him that Neal Street first appeared on the plat of the Farnham, White and Clark addition to West Urbana (as Champaign was known then) in 1854.

"An earlier plat of the original town of West Urbana by the Illinois Central Railroad Co., while showing what is now Neil Street, does not name it. At that time, 1852, the showing of the name for Neil Street was rather unimportant for it was wet, low and swampy.

"Just when Neal Street became Neil Street — and why — is so far an open question. Fred Price does not know whether the change was made by city ordinance or simply by usage."

Comics survey

"A while ago there was a request for comments regarding the comics section of the paper. What were the responses to this survey? Will there be any changes to the current lineups of comic strips?"

Yes, said Mike Goebel, managing editor of The News-Gazette.

"Thanks for your question. As you can imagine, we got an earful from our readers about their favorite — and not-so-favorite — comic strips when I asked for feedback," he said. "After compiling the results of our informal comics poll — which saw more than 100 emails, phone calls, Facebook messages and more — we announced on Sept. 10 that we would cease publication of 'Wizard of Id.'

"The comic strip runs only on Sundays and will have its final week in the pages of the N-G this Sunday (Sept. 30).

"Have more questions or comments about the comics, puzzles or any other feature we run in The News-Gazette, feel free to email me at mgoebel@news-gazette.com."

Fewer robins?

"I am wondering if I am the only one who just isn't seeing very many robins this year. And if so, what is the reason there aren't many this year?"

It may be your neighborhood, said Pam Leiter, education chair of the Champaign County Audubon Society.

"The overall trend in Illinois over the past decades has been a substantial increase in the numbers and range of robins," Leiter said. "Members of the Champaign County Audubon Society haven't posted any observations of lower numbers this year in the county (we have a listserve called Birdnotes where folks can post bird sightings).

"It's possible that your reader could be noticing locally lower numbers for other reasons. For instance, if the lawn areas where the birds have been normally sighted have been treated with insecticides, these could have killed the worms and insects that the robins eat, causing them to move to other areas of town.

"Once a reliable sign of spring, robins can now be found in most of Illinois all year round, including winter. In winter, they eat frozen berries on trees and shrubs in the woods and in our landscaped areas. Once warm weather arrives, they move from the trees to our lawns, looking for earthworms to eat."

Precise measurements

"Champaign County officials have replaced the northbound green directional sign at the corner of the Elliott blacktop and Ludlow slab. The new sign lists Ludlow as 8 miles to the east. However, the southbound sign remains, which lists Ludlow as 7 miles away. Is this going to be fixed?"

"It's technically 7.5 miles to the center of Ludlow," said Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue, "but we don't typically show the half-mile increments on those types of signs. There are no immediate plans to replace the southbound sign. We put many new signs up on the county roads in the last few years to better guide drivers as to which road leads to where."

Prospect protuberance

"Prospect Avenue south on John Street has a lot of bumps, apparently caused by buckling of a layer below the surface. Are there plans for the city to smooth these out? Some of the worst are in the northbound curb lane near the (Champaign) Country Club."

Specific locations like what is described should be reported to publicworks@champaignil.gov or 403.4700, said Public Works spokesman Kris Koester.

"There are some that can be addressed during our routine maintenance work with milling," he said.

Prospect paint

"Again about South Prospect Ave.: There are places, especially near intersections, where the painted lane lines have almost vanished. One of the worst is at Windsor on the south side of the intersection. There are lots more all around the city."

The city plans to (weather permitting) re-mark the lines on the south leg of Prospect and Windsor this week, Koester said.

In general, pavement markings are evaluated each fall for inclusion in the following year's annual pavement marking contract, he said.

"Oftentimes there are more locations that could use a refreshing of markings than there is funding. As a result locations are prioritized and not every location can be included in the next contract. City crews also do some smaller pavement marking work in-house, usually focusing on school zones and crosswalks," he said.

"If there is a specific area of concern please notify Public Works (via email, etc.) and a staff member will take a closer look at the specific location and can respond. Also of note, there are many streets and intersections within the city under the jurisdiction of IDOT, so depending on the specific location the markings could be city maintenance or IDOT maintenance."

Young Illini athletes

"With the start of the new year for U of I athletics I am curious to know who is the first athlete to compete who was born in the new millennium."

So far, none. I looked over the football team roster and none of the players was born after Jan. 1, 2001.

And Kent Brown, the UI associate athletic director for media relations, reviewed the birth dates for athletes and other sports and couldn't find any that young.

"Looks like it will be someone who is a freshman starting in August 2019," Brown said.

Pregame bunking

"I know for sure the Illini football players stay at a hotel the night before home football games. My question is this: since they played (Penn State) on a Friday night, did they spend Thursday night at a hotel? And did they skip classes on Friday because of the unusual game time?"

Yes, said Brown, members of the "travel" squad stayed at the team hotel Thursday night and were excused from class on Friday.

"The 'non-travel' players attended class. We dress 66 players as members of the 'travel' squad," he said.

Pizza popularity

"How much pizza does Memorial Stadium go through during a typical football game, and does it all get made at a local store?"

John Hopple, district general manager for Spectra Food Service & Hospitality at the University of Illinois, said, "Yes, the pizza is prepared on site. We only have one pizza stand located in Memorial Stadium, near the middle of the west side, and so far, we've been selling roughly 165 pizzas per game. That stand also sells cheesy bread and salads."

Trader Joe's?

"Is that a Trader Joe's going in behind the Aldi in Savoy?"

No, it's not going to be a Trader Joe's, said Dan Davies, Savoy's zoning administrator. It's only a 1,600 square foot unit, which is about one-tenth the size of a typical Trader Joe's. No announcement has been made about what kind of business will occupy the space.

Misleading business name?

"The new rental storage business in Savoy is named Curtis Road Storage, but it is not on or near Curtis Road. Isn't there a governmental agency that controls use of geographical names? This business has another on Curtis Road, but how can this name be approved, as it is not on Curtis? It seems it is for lease. Any insight? My Tolono Library Coffee wants to know, they are curious and track southern Champaign County happenings."

No, there is not a government agency that regulates the names of businesses.

Illinois law states that individuals conducting or transacting a business under any name other than the actual names of the owners must file an Assumed Name Certificate with the county clerk in the county where the business is located.

But the only part of the Assumed Business Name Statute that mentions any restrictions on the use of a name is as it relates to foreign-owned businesses: "A foreign person or foreign entity may not use an assumed or fictitious name in the conduct of its business to intentionally misrepresent the origin or location of the person or entity."

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten notes that it is illegal, though, for a business to intentionally misrepresent its location in a phone book.

He found this old statute:

(805 ILCS 405/3b)

Sec. 3b. Locale misrepresentation.

(a) A person shall not advertise or cause to be listed in a telephone directory an assumed or fictitious business name that intentionally misrepresents where the business is actually located or operating or falsely states that the business is located or operating in the area covered by the telephone directory. This subsection (a) does not apply to a telephone service provider or to the publisher or distributor of a telephone service directory, unless the conduct prescribed in this subsection (a) is on behalf of that telephone service provider or that publisher or distributor.

Replacement plates

"When I purchased the sticker for my SUV plates, I inquired about the new Illinois plates. I was told that my new plates probably wouldn't be issued for another eight to 10 years. Why is there such a delay with only pickups and SUVs? At this rate my 'new' plates will be on a disintegrating vehicle."

It depends on whether your SUV has a regular passenger plate or a B-truck plate, said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state's office. The process of replating B-truck plates will begin "in the near future," he said, with the older plates being replaced first.

"In January 2017, we launched a cost-efficient license plate replacement program to replace the oldest license plates with newly designed plates at no additional cost to Illinois taxpayers," said Haupt. "The purpose of the program is to ensure — now and in the future — that older license plates on Illinois roads are replaced. License plates' reflectivity diminishes with age, which impacts law enforcement's ability to quickly and accurately identify license plate numbers. This is a forward-thinking, long-term solution that does not require a complete replating overhaul, which would cost around $60 million.

"It effectively removes older plates and replaces them with newly designed plates. This will ensure that plates are appropriately replaced with the ultimate goal being no license plate on the road will be more than 10 years old."

Champaign snow removal

"I know it's early to be thinking about snow, but I wonder how the city determines in what order to plow the roads. I live in west Champaign near Centennial High School on a school bus route and I would expect to be plowed early in the day so the buses can get through, but instead I seem to be one of the last roads cleared."

Earlier this month the Champaign City Council adopted a new city policy on ice and snow removal that is posted on the city website at http://champaignil.gov/public-works/find-a-service/streets-sidewalks/sno....

In short the policy states that snow and ice removal on primary routes will be completed within 12 hours after the end of a snowstorm. The city estimates that 90 percent of homes are within three blocks of a primary route.The highlights of the policy:

— Anti-icing chemicals will be applied to bridges and selected streets prior to freezing, icing, or other winter weather conditions. Application rates and timing will depend on current and forecast roadway temperatures, precipitation, and day of the week.

Applications may be scheduled up to 72 hours in advance of events, if conditions warrant.

— Snow and ice response on primary routes will begin prior to the start of a forecasted storm to prevent ice bonding. Response actions will be timed based on weather conditions and pavement temperatures.

— Snow and ice removal on primary routes will be completed within 12 hours of cessation of the storm. The goal is to remove snow and ice from the driving lanes to a near-bare pavement and clear snow from the pavement to the curb or edge of pavement.

— Secondary routes will be cleared within 24 hours after primary routes have been completed. Secondary routes may not be cleared to a near-bare pavement status. Snow will be cleared from the pavement to allow for mail delivery.

— Cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets will be cleared within 24 hours after primary routes have been completed. Cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets may not be cleared to a near-bare pavement status. Snow will be cleared from the pavement to the curb or edge of the pavement.

Fast food updates

"Any new updated on the Golden Corral replacing the old Ryan's?"

and

"Do you know if any new business is planning to go into the old Hardee's place on South Neil Street in Champaign?"

and

"About a year ago, I saw in the Mailbag that there were three Checkers/Rallys being built in the area with one to open fairly quickly. That obviously didn't happen, Are they still on the way?"

No building permit applications have been submitted for the old Hardee's building at 1703 S Neil.

No building permit applications have been submitted for a Checkers/Rallys.

The old Ryan's at 1004 W. Anthony is under construction, building permit BS18-0562. The building is being extensively remodeled for a DaVita Dialysis.

The Golden Corral building permit BS17-2632 at 1202 W. Anthony has been approved since July 9. The applicant has not picked up the permit yet.

Columnist

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