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Former McHenry mayor urges public to get involved with Route 31 project

McHENRY – William Busse and Dr. James Mowery are troubled by a proposed plan for the ongoing Route 31 improvement project, which is more than halfway into its phase one stage.

Both men commute along Route 31, near Bull Valley Road, to get to work. Busse works at First National Bank, at the corner of Routes 120 and 31; Mowery, at Centegra Primary Care, near Bull Valley Road and Route 31.

“This is a draconian plan,” said Busse, who served as McHenry mayor from 1985 to 1993. “It’s way over-engineered. Local businesses and property owners need to say ‘Let’s wait a second and work out a solution to [accommodate] higher volume of traffic without knocking buildings down.’

“This design will change the character and the landscape of McHenry.”

The Route 31 project length spans seven miles, from Route 176 in Crystal Lake to Route 120 in downtown McHenry. The objectives of the project is to solve “congestion (existing and future), safety for multimodal users, accessibility for all users, and existing design deficiencies,” according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. In addition, it aims to minimize overall environmental impacts.

In 2009, the average daily traffic rate for Route 31 from Route 176 to Half Mile Trail was 23,500 vehicles. By 2040, IDOT projects the rate to reach 32,000 vehicles. Further east, from Bull Valley Road to Route 120, 17,500 vehicles passed through the north-south corridor. By 2040, the rate is expected to jump to 21,000 vehicles.

In early 2011 IDOT began gathering information and identifying traffic issues affecting Route 31 in McHenry County. The “preferred alternative” could be decided by the end of this winter with final design approval scheduled for summer 2014.

IDOT has since proposed alternatives, including “full-build” and “minimum build” options for the project’s Route 120 intersection.

Busse, who has resided in McHenry for 35 years, is primarily concerned with “the how and the extent of how they’re going to improve it.”

He says he’s not “anti-growth” and acknowledges that future traffic patterns call for improvements.

At the Route 120 - Route 31 intersection from the south the average daily traffic rate is projected to reach 43,000 vehicles, an increase of 10,300 vehicles from 2009’s rate.

Busse objects to the proposed “full-build” model for the Route 120 intersection. This option, estimated to cost $15 million, involves a 30-foot median to accommodate left turn lanes, and could impact a dozen existing buildings nearby. Estimated to cost $12 million, the “minimum-build” option restripes the intersection approaches to include additional, but narrower, lanes without affecting buildings.

“Concerning the full-build construction, it’ll change the landscape and character of our downtown district,” Busse said. “ ... To have 45,000 cars a day come through the city’s central business district ... will affect the community’s quality of life.”

IDOT held two public meetings in June 2011 and November 2012. The next public meeting is expected to take place later this winter.

Busse, a member of the project’s Community Advisory Group, urges residents to keep up with the ongoing developments and offer feedback to project planners before the project’s design gets approved in 2014.

At last month’s McHenry City Council meeting, Busse and Mowery presented their concerns to city officials and encouraged the board to consider the future impact of what’s being considered.

The city is “definitely a part if the process,” City Administrator Derik Morefield said.

“The city is part of these discussions with IDOT and everybody involved,” he said. “We understand the potential impact the project may have on businesses.”

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