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Three projects approved this week by the Champaign City Council will replace antiquated structures built over interstates decades ago when the city was smaller and there was little development north of I-74 or west of I-57.

One side benefit of the big Illinois Department of Transportation project that will reconfigure the layout of the Interstate 74-Interstate 57 interchange in northwest Champaign is the need to redesign overpasses on Bloomington Road over I-57 and on Mattis Avenue over both I-74 and I-57.

Under an agreement approved unanimously this week by the Champaign City Council, all three bridges will be redesigned, widened and made more safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. All three of the bridge projects are scheduled for contract bid letting next month with the possibility that the bulk of the construction will take place next year. It’s going to mean detours and congestion for several months, but the result will be safer roads for motorists and others.

The city council went on record more than 10 years ago in favor of a “complete streets” policy on IDOT overpasses over the interstates, noting that they needed safe pedestrian and bicycle crossings. The existing overpasses were built more than 50 years ago when there was little industrial, commercial or residential development, especially north of I-74, but also west of I-57.

But Champaign north of I-74 now includes the city’s major commercial development plus subdivisions, apartment complexes, an industrial park, a high school and much more. The bridges over the interstate are for the most part less than friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The existing Mattis Avenue bridge over I-74, for example, has a sidewalk on its east side but no bicycle lanes. The Mattis bridge over I-57 has no sidewalks or bicycle lanes.

Under the new configuration, the Mattis bridge over I-74 will include four 12-foot traffic lanes, two 6-foot bike lanes and two 7-foot sidewalks with protective pedestrian fencing on both sides of the bridge. It also will include street lighting.

The Mattis bridge over I-57 will have two 12-foot traffic lanes, two 8-foot bike lanes, two 5-foot sidewalks and pedestrian fencing on both sides of the bridge. Approaches to the bridge will be improved, and there will be new street lighting.

The total cost of the three bridge improvements is estimated at $26.2 million, with the city’s share at about $1.22 million.

It’s a lot of money, but the result will be improved and safer access to a part of Champaign that barely existed when the interstate highway age began here in the 1950s and ’60s.

News-Gazette